I haven’t published a word vomit in 11 days, and I can tell that it’s driving me a little bit mad.
It’s funny. I was re-reading some old notes in Evernote, and I found one from September 2016 titled “next steps for turning curiosities into essays”. I wrote that I was tired of simply writing out my internal monologue, that I was getting bored of it, and I wanted to write something else.
But I don’t think I’ve done very much of that. I probably have, in bits and pieces here and there. I know I’ve written some things about racism and safe spaces and so on. I’ve written a couple of Facebook status-essays that I thought were alright. I’ve written a couple of insightful tweets about my issues with sleep, and about my issues with slightly-toxic groups of people. I’ve also spent some time just processing and revisiting a bunch of things that I’ve already written.
I don’t want to repeat myself too much (though I do want to remind myself that repetition isn’t actually a bad thing, and it’s definitely less bad than going totally dry for too long.)
I do want to take this moment to take responsibility for getting myself unstuck. It is not fun being stuck. Sometimes it can be good to slow down or shut off, to just process everything. To reorient. I think I’ve done some of that. Not in the best possible way, but I’ve gotten some of it. I had a week of downtime when I was at reservist a few weeks ago, towards the end of June. That was alright, though it wasn’t particular optimal. But so be it. It seems pretty clear by now that things are never going to be perfectly optimal. The optimal path consists of a series of reasonably-optimal steps, because trying to be perfectly optimal is a losing game. That’s the Paradox of Choice. We gotta satisfice to move forward.
I don’t satisfice enough. I want to satisfice more, and faster. I want to make more decisions. One of the problems when I’m scanning through my notes, or my bookmarks, is that I simply take too long to make decisions. Actually that can be generalized. I take too long to make decisions, period. I’m probably afraid. Afraid of making the wrong decision. Afraid of wastage. But what I should be really afraid of at this point is the passage of time. Right now I’m writing this vomit because I’m afraid 11 days is too long for me to go without having published a word vomit. It doesn’t matter if it’s shit – once I’ve gone more than a couple of days, I’m in the weeds. I should just write something, anything, and put it out there. I can reasonably assume that the one that comes after it will be better. Gotta shake things up and get the ink flowing again.
I have a lot of notes and bookmarks and todos and I feel like they’re suffocating me. A part of me wants to get rid of all of them and start over. But that’s just this impulsive part of me that is hoping for a sort of non-existent pristineness to life. That’s the part of me that started a new game over and over again when playing Simcity or Championship Manager. That’s the part of me that’s obsessed with this fictional sort of perfect blank slate. There is no such thing. You are born into the middle of history, not the start and not the end. You are in the middle of your life. You have to go with the running start that you get. This is it, this is life, there’s no practice round.
Let’s talk about what I’ve been reading. I was rereading Ray Bradbury’s Zen In The Art Of Writing recently, and I found myself stirring inside. I realized that I have been trapped by my own expectations, and my own fears of failure and irrelevance and incompetence. Those fears are all imaginary. Failure is fine. Irrelevance is fine. If you screw something up terribly, people will mostly forget and forgive – if not within days or weeks, than within months and years. The default response to everything is indifference. And catastrophic failures are exceedingly unlikely and improbable – and even when they happen, they’re really quite survivable. So stop being so afraid, stop letting yourself get paralyzed by doubt and confusion and uncertainty and anxiety. Let it all go, man. Transform anxiety into laughter. Because it’s all one big joke. And the meta-joke is that we’re afraid to laugh.
I know that I’m a good enough writer. I may never be one of The Greats, but at this point I don’t even really care anymore. I just miss the work. I miss the process. I’m thinking now of what Craig from Craigslist said when someone asked him how it felt to be working on something that millions of people used. He said something like, it’s a little strange, a little gratifying, a little surreal… and then it’s back to work. That’s the only thing that really matters. We are most alive in the trenches of everyday life. That’s what counts. The awards and accolades are all just a distraction, and it’s a shame that this is so misrepresented. We valorize the success reel too much. Too many authors, myself included, have this weird sort of fetish or fantasy for critical success. But critical success is irrelevant! What matters is that you write, that you sweat and bleed and that you love the work. And as I type these words out, as my fingers hit the keys of my macbook and symbols are appearing in pixels on my screen, I can feel the love. I love my work. It doesn’t matter if all of this gets washed away. I could delete all of this once the project is over (I probably won’t, though). The point is that I did the work. So just keep writing. Keep doing the work. Yeah, there’s some editing involved. There’s some thinking and planning involved. But if you’ve gone 11 days without publishing anything, you know you’re fooling yourself.
Get up. Keep going.