Hey gang, with this column I’m going to try to get underneath writing and into something deeper. I’m not sure if it’s appropriate grist for the WriterUnboxed mill but, “Throw it out the window and see if it lands,” right? Your feedback will tell me if I’m on-topic or off-. -jv
Writer’s block, I have discovered, takes place at the intersection of too much fear and not enough information. Whenever I find myself in that dark neighborhood, I never try to write. Instead, I go gather new information. Once I’ve tipped the balance back in information’s favor, I find that my fear goes to sleep and I can go back to work. That’s how I beat writer’s block, not by trying to muscle through it, but by using strategies to make it go away.
I use this same approach to address other issues in my life, be they personal, spiritual, practical, existential, whatever-al. I don’t try to solve my problems, per se. I just study them more deeply – add new information. This gives me practice at gathering and using information – never a bad thing – and, of course, it brings new information to bear on the matter or matters at hand.
Get used to gathering data. Make it part of your practice, part of becoming more you. It’s not important what you look into, just that you have the habit of looking, a habit you can cultivate and enjoy as a positive addiction and a path to enlightenment for as long as you live.
When I tell you that gathering information is a path to enlightenment, I’m not horsing around. I know it from my own experience; you know it from yours. Enlightenment exists at the ultimate intersection of what we know and how we use it. Everything that advances us toward that goal is part of enlightenment, too.
But, “My life tends to get in the way of my life,” I can hear someone say. “Between work, family, school, love, ambition, bills, pills and spills, who has time for big exploration?”
Well, who said anything about big exploration? No one’s asking you to master Sanskrit. Start small. Pick a subject you can peck away at in the corners of your time.
What would you investigate, for fun or for insight, if you had time?
I would investigate (off the top of my head): World War I. World War II. Contemporary art. Brewing and distilling. The works of many philosophers. The Munster Rebellion. The Boxer Rebellion. The Whiskey Rebellion. Tennis. Genetics. Metallurgy. Ooh, alchemy! The dawn of civilization. Myths and legends. The Iran-Iraq War. Linguistic anthropology. Regular anthropology. Islands of the South Pacific. Astronomy, astrology and the Golden Age of anything.
Above and beyond the learning that’s in it, such investigations will have the added benefit of establishing yourself as a seeker and explorer in the eyes of two groups:
2/ Everyone else.
In terms of yourself, simply accept that you’re on the path, and that advancing along the path will always be at least a part of what you do.
For the outer crowd, they need to know that you own your time – that there will be times when you drop everything and just go exploring because that’s who you are.
What we’re talking about here is using the yeast of new information to make our lives rise. You’re doing it. I’m doing it. Not everyone around us does, but they need to respect that we do.
We live our lives among others, that’s a fact, and people put demands on our time. Some demands are legitimate, and should be negotiated in good faith and good spirit. Other demands, though, may mask a hidden agenda, for while you’re making your life rise, you can be seen as a threat to those around you who are not. For fear of confronting their own thwarted aspirations in this area, they might want to – and try to – stunt your growth by sabotaging your time.
This isn’t nice and it’s not fair, but it does happen, and when it happens it demands action – bold action. You can’t let others stand between you and the life you want to live. It won’t make you happy and it won’t make them happy, either.
But it’s hard to take action toward change, especially the kind of change that involves removing people from your life. It’s hard to measure that risk versus reward.
The yardstick I use is a hill.
Imagine that you’re standing on a hill and in the distance you see a mountain. You want to be on the mountain – you’d rather be on the mountain – but you’re not sure if you can get there. One thing you are sure of: Your first step off this hill is down.
Bummer. You’re being asked to make a certain sacrifice for an uncertain gain. What kind of deal is that?
The only kind of deal there is, once you consider the alternative. You might not reach the mountain by coming down off the hill, but you’ll never reach the mountain if you don’t.
So your choices are these: the uncertain hope of improvement or the certain knowledge of no improvement.
It’s hard to come down off the hill if it’s a pretty good hill or if you have a lot invested in it. “Good is the enemy of great,” as they say. And it’s hard to come down off the hill if you fear you won’t reach a better place. Having a clear sense that things won’t change unless you change can motivate that first downhill step.
I quit my job once using this logic. It was a good job with decent pay and prospects. It was even kind of fun. But it didn’t let me own my time, and that was my mountaintop: to own all my time. I didn’t know if I could reach that goal (and not go broke or starve). I just knew that staying put wouldn’t work. With no guarantee of reaching the high mountain, I had to get down off that hill.
People use this logic to leave jobs every day. Leave home. Leave relationships. Leave addictions. Change careers. Become writers. Become artists. Become… whatever.[pullquote]Leave home. Leave relationships. Leave addictions. Change careers. Become writers. Become artists. Become… whatever.[/pullquote] They don’t know if change will work. They just know that not-change won’t.
What hill do you stand on? What mountain do you seek? Go boldly. Nothing but change awaits.
What strategies do you use to deepen your self-understanding? Or is that even an issue for you? Can a writer be enlightening without being enlightened? Does that even matter? Discuss! :)