The Pursuit of Yes

Post Date: February 16th, 2009

Today’s Word Count for the Novel: 116,428. 1401 words added.
Page Count for the Novel: 418 pages. (4 pages added since last post.)

“You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage – pleasantly, smilingly, nonapologetically – to say ‘no’ to the other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside. The enemy of the ‘best’ is often the ‘good.’”

— Stephen Covey

If we all possessed knowledge of what our highest priorities should be, I imagine such wisdom would mean the end of Unhappiness. But often we don’t even know what Happiness is. Jefferson’s oft-repeated phrase, “the pursuit of happiness,” might better be stated as, Figuring Out What the Heck Makes Me Happy.

It’s not as if Happiness sits in a clown suit waving from a distant mountain peak and all you have to do is cross some miles. Happiness isn’t easy to ID nor is it the fruit of a simple search.

Another myth is that the pursuit should be fun and something you could do with half an eye open. Not so. Sometimes you have to go after Happiness with both eyes open and pasted to the back of your head and to your back and all over that pursuing body. Alertness and courage are of the essence.

Cut to the artist’s life. The artist’s way is not just about embracing your muse on a mountaintop with a resounding “YES!” If you dare to make art, you know it’s about facing your fears. One fear I have is that doing the safe thing is smarter and better than dealing with the unknowns of a writer’s life. I may love to work here at this keyboard and slip into my writer’s dreamland; I may adore what creativity does to me, body and soul; but if it doesn’t immediately pay the bills or fill up the résumé with accomplishments, well, I’m kind of…unhappy.

“The enemy of the ‘best’ is often the ‘good,’” Covey says. Could that enemy be those safe tasks I’m good at, those pursuits that make some money, that call to me with siren songs of status and security? Those pursuits are ultimately good things, not of the devil, but they remain enemies nonetheless. They don’t truly advance me. I have to create and believe in my own standards and stair steps to success. The ladder I climb has to be toward the better angels of my nature, not to what Society says is Success and You’ve Arrived.

(I’m using an awful lot of capitals, but that’s in honor of Jefferson and the mechanics of English at the time of the Declaration.)

The older I get, the more I discover what gives me the greatest joy. When it comes to work and sweat, some of these things are

— Being there at the creation of a story, and then still there at the molding, and the pruning, and the raising up into adulthood;
— Helping a fellow writer or student see the beauty in their creative work, and challenging the artist to persevere toward the truth they seek; and
— Developing lessons another teacher can use tomorrow.

When I look at how I spend my time each day, how much time is spent in the pursuit of these things? And if my time isn’t spent in those pursuits, how do I get there? Those are the questions that get me further on my ladder of happiness.

Answer them with choices, and no apologies, either. Covey uses a bit of a clunker — “nonapologetically” — and it draws attention, perhaps for good reason. Apologize for choosing my right path? I’m tempted because of what others might do when I choose my destiny. Some will test you when you make the right choice, since you’re changing the rules others assumed you’d follow. Others will expect apology. Romeo wonders the same thing as he crashes the Capulet party: “…shall we on without apology?” Benvolio, usually timid, disagrees: “..let them measure us by what they will./We’ll measure them a measure and be gone.”

Measuring them a measure means, treading out some stately dance and then disappearing. Sometimes you have to bow and curtsey and be safely, politely gone.

So in the spirit of embracing the “bigger ‘yes’ burning inside,” “no” must be said to devoting time and worry to work that’s high on stress but low on spiritual reward; to tweaking a novel rather than serious revision; and to being the “good” girl who dutifully pursues dust bunnies with a Swiffer rather than dusting off her keyboard to swiftly write.

And no must even be said to Sonny, squeaking cat by my side. Sure, my blog mascot deserves extra Science diet now that he’s gone global. But even he settles down eventually (after scratching the edges of my desk and getting tangled up in computer cords in hopes I’ll leave my writing). Cats are smart. They know nothing is more important than pursuing your dreams in some soft, warm spot. I know nothing is more important than pursuing my dreams in the quiet of this office that’s taken years to build. Let the dust collect, let the résumé sit, let the fears subside. All things work to the good in the Pursuit of Yes.

Today’s Writing Goal: Backtrack and edit to cut words and get reacquainted before * pick up in the mid-400’s to keep the story under 150,000. Finish draft #1 of new short story, “Man on Man.”

Writing Prompts: Please note that writing prompts should always be pursued in emotionally-safe environments with the supervision of someone who interested in encouraging good writing, self-awareness, and reflection. A wonderful resource is Pat Schneider’s Writing Alone and With Others.

© Lyn Hawks. Writing prompts for one-time classroom use only and not for publication in any form elsewhere without permission of this author.


What Makes Me Happy?

Make a list of ten people, ten places, ten activities, and ten things that make you happy. You should have forty items on your list by the end.

Now circle one from each list and write a sentence about each that explains why this person, place, activity, or thing brings you happiness. If you can, use “Words I Can’t Touch” – words such as love, hope, joy, excitement, safety, fun – to explain why.

Write a poem called “How to Make Me Happy.” In this poem, mention your favorite people, places, activities, and things that bring you joy.

Secondary and Adult

The Happiness Ladder

What choices do you make that make you happy? Have you ever helped someone, made a tough choice or sacrifice, or worked really hard, and then found happiness? Have you ever made a friend who brought you great happiness?

People sometimes use a ladder to refer to the path toward success. Describe your ladder and give details about what choices, people, and places are at each rung. Most importantly, what’s at the top of the ladder?


  1. bobmust says:

    In using the term, “pursuit” of happiness, was Jefferson setting the stage for John Lennon’s relativistic “God is a concept by which we measure our pain?” In Jefferson’s mind, would happiness occur when something grows in attraction as one pursues it?
    Or, again Lennon, is it that “Happiness has nothing to do with me. I’m just its channel?”

    But don’t mind me…I gotta go have surgery on my shoulder today. Happiness will be when the pain stops.

  2. Lyn Hawks says:

    Hey, Bob,

    Just saw a documentary on Lennon the other day, and they interviewed his therapist about how Lennon came up with that lyric. It was an epiphany culled from intensive therapy.

    Both Lennon and the old-school Deists are sounding a little too clockwork, removed God for me. I think the same passion that drives me to write infuses everything in life, whether we bury it or keep it at every nerve ending. Though, lately, I’ve been too aware of those nerve endings, and that will exhaust you faster than anything.

    Please take good care of yourself. Sorry you have to have surgery. I hope you recuperate swiftly!

  3. bobmust says:

    I’m back, slightly addled, and thanks for the well-wishes. This is a good conversation for Dave F., but the old Greeks thought creative people were “possessed,” not by some evil monster, but by the gods. Then came Socrates….

  4. Lyn Hawks says:

    Bob, glad you’re returned from the sterile place where our writing dreams get addled by drugs! (Though some drugs, Coleridge and DeQuincey knew, could lead to some interesting palaces and confessions!) I must hear more about this possession the Greeks talked of. Very interesting. See my next post, coming soon…