There’s a useful story out there about how to catch monkeys—some of you already know how it goes.
Find a tree with a small hole in it, opening up into a larger space, like an abandoned nest—or weave a basket with a narrow opening or mold a pot with a narrow mouth.
Drop some large nuts into the tree or basket or pot, place a couple outside as encouragement, and wait.
When the monkey shows up, they’ll see the nuts, stick an arm through and grab a handful. But since the opening is so narrow, they won’t be able to pull their fist out.
The monkey will screech and dance and yank their poor arm half out of its socket—anything but let go of those nuts.
Even when they see the hunters coming.
I don’t know how many times I’ve set my own traps with insane word counts and scenes that don’t work, characters who don’t belong, weird plot points, obscure references, the One True Writing Habit of other people, and even whole stories that arrive DOA—or not at all—no matter what kind of surgical procedures I try.
If I let ’em go, I could move on to something that works, or at least something that’s more fun that swinging one-armed from a #!%&%ing tree.
And then there’s the assorted fears and self-esteem issues that are only insurmountable if I keep holding onto them and screeching and pulling and kvetching and deliberately mistaking for real problems instead of nutty ones.
If I let these go, I’d be a lot less likely to tie myself up in knots when the going gets rough.
The worst part of this is that I’m not only the monkey, here, I’m the hunter.
And also nuts.
Neurologist and addiction psychiatrist Judson Brewer doesn’t use this analogy in his talk about getting out of our own way—though I’m sure he’s aware of it—but that’s what instantly came to mind after I watched it.
Because it’s kind of hard to feel that writing rush I love so much when I can’t see over my own elbow . . .
Walnuts or Cashews?