A: So I haven’t written for myself in a while.
B: Why is that?
A: I guess I’ve been busy. Or distracted. Or tired of the sound of my own voice. Probably all of the above.
B: That’s somewhat understandable.
A: Yeah. But sometimes I feel fine when I haven’t been writing, and sometimes I feel shitty. This time I feel shitty.
A: I suppose it feels like my writing hasn’t caught up to what’s in my mind. If I feel like I’ve exhausted everything that’s on my mind for a given period of time, then it’s no biggie. I can rest and relax without any concern. But if there’s stuff on my mind, and I haven’t been writing it down, then it starts to bother me.
B: Okay. What’s on your mind?
A: Well, I’ve been thinking about what I want to do with my life. And I think it’s pretty certain that I want to be working with words, no matter what. I like words. I have a good relationship with words. I care about words more than most people I’ve ever encountered. So I’m going to be making a living with words one way or another, and I’m also going to be seeking pleasure and meaning (or the illusions of them) through words.
B: Sounds fair.
A: Well, it feels like I haven’t taken the next step yet.
B: What is the next step?
A: I need to start writing something that goes beyond navel-gazing, self-examining stuff. These things have been status reports and personal psychoanalyses and I’m a little bored of that. I feel like there has to be something more.
B: Such as?
A: What I used to do before this was write social commentary. And there’s a particular piece that I’m thinking of doing, but I haven’t made much progress on that. And I think there’s something else I want to do.
B: Wait, that’s a bunch of things all at once. What is the piece that you’re thinking of doing?
A: Singapore-based social commentary again, about how we treat rebellious, inconvenient nuisance type people. I want to make the case that the way we treat them defines who we are as a people, and that we’re unfortunately undervaluing them.
B: That sounds like something you’d care about. What’s stopping you?
A: Well… nothing in particular, I guess. Maybe it’s a little too big a project to be written in a single draft. And I’m also thinking of a bunch of other things at the same time.
B: What else are you thinking?
A: I suppose it feels like writing about Singapore is a bit of a trap, it brings me back to who I was before I started this project. Saying that out loud feels a little silly– because I know intellectually that I can’t possibly be the same person any more. All my friends tell me that I’ve changed. But I guess I’m hoping to go somewhere altogether new now.
B: Where do you want to go?
A: That’s the thing, I’m not entirely sure.
B: You must have some idea, or you wouldn’t be here right now.
A: You’re right. Well. I want to write about manhood, about how a boy becomes a man. And I suppose I’m hesitating there because I’m sure that’s been done to death, and anybody who’s serious about writing that sort of thing must do a whole bunch of reading before they can get started.
B: Maybe. Not necessarily though. Sounds like you’re placing a lot of expectations on yourself. Why must some piece of writing be guaranteed to be successful?
A: I suppose… I suppose I feel like I haven’t been super-amazing on all the other fronts. I’m doing okay in most things. And I’d like to be really, really good at something, and I’m scared that that won’t be the case. That I’m going to reveal my own incompetence and weakness, especially since this is going to be something I haven’t done before. It’s going to be bad. It’s going to be weak. And I guess delaying is a sort of mislaid protection mechanism.
B: So what does that tell you?
A: I should stop worrying about it and just start writing crap. I can publish crap on this site and hardly anybody’s going to know or care, anyway. I’m just beating myself up inside my own head and keeping myself from moving forward. It’s all imaginary.
B: So what are you going to write about?
A: I feel like I should start practicing writing fiction. But there are so many parts to fiction. There’s dialogue. There’s setting. There’s… an endless set of things to consider. And I don’t know what my personal style is. I don’t know what sort of context or setting I should use. I don’t even know where to begin. I’ve spent so much time in the critical zone that I don’t know how to begin to be generative. I suppose I’ve tried a couple of times but… I don’t know, I don’t find it inspiring.
B: Sounds like you should just get something shitty and bad out first, and then you can criticise and edit that.
A: Yeah, that makes sense to me intellectually. It’s also probably the advice I’d give to anybody else who feels stuck in my situation. Crazy how it’s possible to know what to do and yet feel like you don’t know what to do when you’re in the situation.
B: Happens to every person in the arena, I think.
A: You’re right, as always. I should consult you more often.
B: Happy to be of service.
A: So what do you think I should write first? I have so many different ideas and I don’t know where to begin.
B: Honestly, it really does sound like you’re overthinking it. You’ll benefit from just getting stuff out of your system. So start with whatever you know you can finish quickly. Get that stuff out, and then don’t look back– just move on to the next thing. And the next. And the next.
A: You’re so smart.
B: Now you’re being sarcastic.
A: *shrug* It’s a sort of defence mechanism, I guess. But I do mean it.
B: Then you know what you must do.