Begin where you are. I’ve given that advice so many times it seems etched into my bones. When you’re at a loss for what to write, start with something real nearby: the temperature, the humidity, a flower outside, a smell. It can all be edited later for continuity; the important thing is to BEGIN. And begin again, and again, and again.
This isn’t a new and brilliant insight. I don’t have those to offer. That’s not denigrating myself, it’s a frank recognition that I walk in the wake of writers and artists who have already said it all, in every possible iteration and language.
Fresh or stale, all the same, it’s solid advice: start where you are.
Right now, I’m afraid and anxious, sad and listless. I’m at the tail end (I hope!) of several very not-good days. My sleeping schedule is wrecked, my appetite erratic, my mood remarkably volatile. I’m in bed writing this post on my smartphone, in fact, because I can’t face the Business Level of Adulting required to write at my desk just now.
It took me three hours to write this post. I napped, and played Blackjack, and checked Twitter, and thought about my novel-in-progress, and took a shower, and just stared blankly at nothing.
Part of me sees this as an admission of failure. The more experienced part of my brain flips that idea out the window with a cynical laugh. There is no failing. There is only Not Doing.
I would rather admire myself for beginning, over and over and over again, than berate myself for not Succeeding (which is an abstract goal at best).
I’ve heard that writers shouldn’t talk about the sad stuff while we’re going through it. Don’t talk about being down, or depressed, don’t vent about your troubles, not until you’ve come out the other side. Nobody wants to hear the dragging odyssey of despair: they want to hear the Triumphant Conclusion.
Well, yeah. But also no. I see value in telling other creative folks you’re not alone in feeling overwhelmed; it’s okay to be flaky and crazed and disintegrating. You don’t actually have to hide it all the time. I see value in assuring people that yes, we CAN still get work done while falling apart on the inside, and that we can use that work as a path to pulling ourselves back together.
People do need to know that when we’re in crisis, it’s really truly ok to hide in bed for 23 hours out of the day–as long as you’re using that one teeny little hour to do something creative. Five minutes each out of twelve of those twenty four hours. The rest of the time can be allllll about you and your misery if that’s what you need that day.
You’re going to wake up the next morning and see that tiny little hour’s worth of work, those twelve batches of five minutes of effort, and add another hour to it. And another. And another. Even if you end up with forty different projects, they’re still seeds, they’re still guideposts, they still matter.
You can tell people about the seeds, about the work, and you know what–it doesn’t matter if you talk about the pain or about the excitement of creation, because here’s a pro tip: they probably won’t be listening anyway.
I do agree, from experience, that folks want to hear about themselves. They want to talk about themselves. They want to know what advantage being nice to you will give to them.
If that sounds cynical, well–maybe it is. But it’s also true. And it’s not actually horrible-person behavior; it’s normal-people behavior, held in check by social conventions and cultural expectations across the world. Anyone in sales has to accept that as reality, and these days, writers, artists, musicians–we are in sales, like it or not. Most of us interact with so damn many people on a day to day basis, let alone over the course of a year, that we can’t care about everyone equally. We can’t connect with them all. It would destroy us emotionally and drain the energy we need to do the actual creative work that makes people want to meet us in the first place!
I had to shut down my Facebook pages recently. It’s too big, too emotionally connected: I began to feel as though I was at a major convention every time I logged on. So. Many. People … Talking about so many things! I couldn’t remember who was friends with who, which people I shouldn’t drag into one another’s mentions, what topics had already been discussed to death by one set of friends but not even considered by others–it was just Too Much, and I have a book to finish, a house to organize, and as I mentioned, quite the handful of Not Good Days clawing at me.
Twitter, oddly, is easier. It’s more transient, less solid; more fleeting, slipping past, not requiring one to hold on to the conversational thread for more than a day or two. So I’m still active on Twitter, although my personal feed is set to private for the moment. I’ll open it up again soon, but not quite yet.
Right now, I’m enjoying the quiet in my head. I’m remembering who I am: I’m a writer. I’m inclined toward Buddhism, and I want to get back to exploring that path. I’m goofy and funny and passionate and dedicated, and I really, REALLY love to write.
I write on my phone, in the security of my own bedroom; I write while sitting in a doctor’s waiting room; I write at 2 a.m., when I can’t sleep. I write while devouring tacos on a pit stop between one destination and another.
This sounds much more productive and admirable than it is in reality. Remember what I said above? Five minutes. One hour. One paragraph. A blog post. A thank you card. A newsletter. Fiction. Non-fiction. Journal entry. Silly tweets. Web site copy. It doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter how sad I feel, or how angry. It doesn’t matter how completely crappy my day has been, it doesn’t matter if I’ve slept 14 hours and stuffed my face with chocolate ice cream instead of a healthy meal.
Five minutes. One hour. One paragraph.
They’re seeds. You need seeds. You need lots and lots and lots of seeds.
So start with what you have right now. Start with who you are right now. Start with where you are right now. Begin creating. Then begin again. And again. And again….