Jonathan, a dear friend of InSpero who was part of our Art of Community event in 2016, writes a helpful and encouraging weekly newsletter called The Habit Weekly. Several months ago, he described the difference between creating from a hierarchal framework and a territorial mindset. His words were too valuable not to share because we must remind ourselves to tend the place, time, and talent given to us. And to also cultivate a community in that place. Here is an excerpt from two of his posts. (Read full entries here and here.)
One of the creators from the The Habit Weekly community shared this,
“For a long time what held me back from writing seriously was that there are so many people that could do it better than me. But recently I’ve taken up a different mindset, one that focuses more just getting in the game and loving it, just like people do when they train for a marathon, knowing they might never be the best but they have a chance of finishing if they put in the hard work and discipline.”
That’s exactly right. Writing, like running, requires discipline and work and a willingness to do hard things when a thousand easier things present themselves. But the goal of all of that work and discipline is to get better, not to get better THAN. Other writers are your allies, not your adversaries. Their excellence can inspire you, it can teach you, it can give you good ideas. But there is no reason it should discourage you.
In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield talks about switching from a hierarchical orientation to a territorial orientation. A hierarchical orientation is fueled by comparison. And comparison, as we know, is the thief of joy. Comparative, hierarchical thinking comes very naturally to us (or, perhaps I should say, it comes habitually to us), but that kind of thinking simply can’t sustain a writer.
If you’re a writer, forget about your place in the hierarchy. You don’t have a place in the hierarchy because there is no hierarchy in any meaningful sense. What you have is a territory—a little patch of ground that is yours to cultivate. Your patch of ground is your unique combination of experiences and perspective and voice and loves and longings and community. Tend that patch of ground. Work hard. Be disciplined. Get better. Your patch of ground and your community are worth it.
Your hard work might result in widespread acclaim, but it probably won’t. More likely, it will result in the kind of fame that Naomi Shihab Nye speaks of in her poem,
The river is famous to the fish.
The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.
The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.
The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.
The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.
The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.
The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.
I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.
I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.
I hope you have friends who encourage you to cultivate your little patch of ground and celebrate when it bears fruit. And I hope you're celebrating when your friends' little patch bears fruit. If you don't have that kind of friend, your next best move is to start being that kind of friend for somebody else.
Jonathan Rogers brings his gifts of writing, teaching, and speaking to empower and create with those around him. He is the author of the popular Wilderking Trilogy, The Charlatan’s Boy, and The Terrible Speed of Mercy. He teaches creative writing online and hosts the Habit Membership community for writers. He is an active member of The Rabbit Room and hosts The Habit Podcast on the Rabbit Room Podcast Network.
We were stirred by Jonathan's discussion of territories vs. hierarchies as it relates to artists and writers. As a writer himself, he encourages creators to push past the tendency to compare and tend to their own journeys as creators.