Musicians know the groove. The feeling you have when you are lost in the music and the world goes away. Musicians see the man in the groove and they say “He’s gone.” And he is. For a writer the groove is that special and meditative place where the world goes away, that place where the voices are and the voices move the story and you mutter to yourself and space-time quietly goes adrift. The groove is bliss. The groove is better than being published, its the real zen. Its the writers dope. You have to love the groove. You have to earn the groove by paying your dues at the keyboard, even on dry days. The groove is your real reward. You get the groove by paying your dues. By courting the madness, by walking in the inner moonlight, hoping for teeth and claws to sprout, by spreading your blanket in the dark for a picnic or a midnight tryst in the light of your personal bloodmoon.
The price for the groove is madness. You have to live close to your unconscious. You have to open that cellar door and step through into the dark and the strange smells. Most of us have a lot of noisy things with dark wings in that darkness that fly in your face and climb on your skin. If you walk or finally crawl far enough the lights go out and you know you’re in the presence of demons. If you stay, you may make friends with them. They don’t mind that you’re scared, it amuses them. They won’t take you seriously if you’re not a little scared. It means you have soul. If you run, they’ll bring you down like a lion on a gazelle. Or maybe if, whimpering, you try to crawl for the door you’ll morph into some cosmic horror as in a Lovecraft story. Mary Oliver knows that place. I used to know that place, though my cellar is a little cleaner now than is really good for me. You have to love the dusty cellar. You have to love the darkness at least a little. You have to make friends with the madness and learn to listen with caution to the whispers in your head.
You can look at a painting and know almost nothing about the artist who made it. Listen to music and know nothing about the composer - unless there are lyrics to go with it. Ah - the lyrics! The words. The lyrics tell you of the artist, not the music. The language arts are like that. You get away with less, have to expose your heart more and maybe wring it out in public once in awhile. Narrative fiction and poetry craft are so much about observation and empathy mixed with your interior world of experience. You can’t pass judgment on people, especially people who hurt you, because your job is to observe and when possible listen. Losing your temper at someone closes that door and you’ve lost the chance to learn a little more. So to be a language artist demands some humility.
Absolute and unmixed attention, whether down in the groove or directed to a human being is an act of devotion. It is prayer. Prayer and the groove are the same. Anything might become sacred if you pray to it enough. This is why the groove is sacred. This is why we want to court the groove.
You can’t be lucky. You do not have to be good. But with patience you can prepare yourself to be lucky. You do this by showing up, somewhere at some time during the day or early morning and stepping down into the cellar. Most days you come up with nothing. But you show up. That shows character. The groove respects character. You have to know what your problem is and what your problem isn’t. Your problem is to show up. You do this by carrying a notebook with you in your pocket everywhere you go. This battered notebook, squashed a little flatter by your ass every time you sit on it, becomes something like a sacred talisman. A lantern held out to your particular madness, an image of devotion to your particular faith, your membership in the Church of the Holy Groove. The notebook is your prayer and your key to the cellar door that you are willing to be inspired and more important willing to work faithfully in unrequited dryness and desiccation, like a forgotten houseplant in a window, until inspiration arrives, waters you and finds your blooms fragrant. It is an act of faith. So much of creative work is an act of faith believing in the future the way a farmer does under the white nets of winter or the watery dark of spring.