At the end of my recent guided self-study course for writers, 30 Days to Becoming Unstuck, I delivered on a promise I made early in January: in response to students’ comments, I’d create a new FLOAT tool for them.
Well, now it’s time for the big reveal. Here’s what I gave my students, and I hope it is useful. I call it Eight Feet Ahead:
A friend was telling me about a recent mountain bike ride, and she taught me something.
Here’s the question: When you’re racing over roots and rocks in the wild, how do you stay on your bike and keep going? The terrain is always changing, always surprising you, as you fly through the woods, so what do you do? Will you fall?
You fall, my friend explained, when you look down at the obstacles in your path.
Huh? Wouldn’t you want to know what was right there under you and your bike?
No, as it turns out. Looking at where you are means that you’re too late! Your reference point is constantly changing, your obstacles are constantly changing, so the way to keep moving is to stay focused eight feet ahead at all times. When you look for an opening up ahead – always up ahead – and keep your aim on that, you’ll stay safely in motion.
I was starting to understand, and my friend sensed that an illustration would help: She was riding with a friend in a wooded mountainous area. Her friend sensed that he should veer to the left, but, as she put it, “his brain got the better of him.” He looked down and decided he should keep his bike between two gnarled root systems. That’s when he fell. (Happily, rider and bike were okay.) He would not have fallen if, like, my friend, he had veered to the left, the way his first intuition had suggested.
For writers, this can be a powerful reminder that the current obstacle is not the main thing. We can remain focused eight feet ahead – at the next opening, at what we’re aiming for, at a newly revealed opportunity or idea. Our focus is misplaced if it’s trained on a gnarly root system that threatens our equilibrium here and now.
If you’re always looking ahead, the odds increase that you’ll get there.
An example of a gnarly root for a writer could be fear. So, if I focus on how will I break through my fear, that’s when my fear is likely to trip me up. Alternatively, if I focus on my next step – my opening – the fear is just a gnarly root on the ground. By the time I notice it, I’ve already moved past it on my way toward the next next step.
For someone else, the gnarly root might be competitiveness. “Eight feet ahead” in that case might be recalling that I’m part of the timeless clan of writers, and my work is worthwhile for its own sake.
What’s your gnarly root? Where will you focus instead?
PS If you already have your copy of my book, FLOAT, these tools may also be helpful: The Timeless Clan (p 141), Come to Mama (p 47), Exhale (p 65), and Anger Map (p 31).
Copyright © A M Carley 2017. All rights reserved. FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers by A M Carley is available at Central Virginia booksellers and online.