What to Write About (When There’s Nothing to Write About)

I want to make writing in here a regular practice, but I have this problem of not knowing what to write about when I’m neither in the middle of a full-blown meltdown and need to do the creative equivalent of venting nuclear gas (bonus points to those of you who, like me, got a mental flash of that episode of the Simpsons where Homer becomes morbidly obese), nor inspired by a particular idea.

Though many people use their blogs as a digital journal, which is totally fine, I kind of want this to be something more than that. Given, a big part of the content is me talking about the emotional comings-and-goings in my head, but I feel like that’s such a huge part of what goes into my creative work that it’s something beyond a simple “Dear yawning abyss of the internet, today I X’ed…”

“What to write about when there’s nothing to write about.” Hm. I mean, that in and of itself is an interesting topic, given how many creators (myself included) have a crippling fear of a blank page. It’d be easy to ascribe that to a human fear of the unknown and be done with it, but I feel like the comfort of unused potential is a particularly artistic flavor of psychosis. It’s like… so long as the page is blank, I lose nothing. But the moment I start putting something down, trying to realize something in my head, or even just noodle around in my sketchbook, I make myself vulnerable by simple fact of engaging in the artistic process.

I feel like that’s a big part of why it’s so difficult to be creative or artistic when you’re intentionally TRYING to be. It’s like TRYING to be happy, in the sense that it’s something that happens out of the corner of your eye when you’re not expecting it, and then suddenly “I accidentally a whole editorial.” I forget the person who said the quote (it occurs to me I could take two seconds and Google it, but I’m on a roll here), but the idea that “the moment you ask yourself if you’re happy, you cease to be.”

I think a similar sentiment could be applied to art. I mean, in some sense you have to make a conscious decision to start drawing, or writing, or filming, or whatever, sure. But when you’re in the middle of the process, the moment you start second-guessing yourself, the whole thing comes to a screeching halt while you erase that eyebrow 50 times because IT DOESN’T LOOK QUIZZICAL ENOUGH, DAMMIT.

A lot has been made of the idea of Flow, the state where you’re utterly lost in the moment of whatever task you’re participating in. I find it a useful concept, and it gels well with the readings on Zen and Taoist philosophy that have informed my current worldview. However, I do find myself having trouble reconciling it with the necessity of conscious practice to develop skill. When we (or… I, I suppose I should just speak from my own experience) feel stuck and unable to create, there’s a good chance that it’s because I’m thinking too much about it, and just need to breathe, go with the flow, and see what happens. The thing about practice, though, is that you NEED that conscious self-reflection to process the new techniques you’re acquiring. To refine them, straighten out any kinks, and to truly connect the dots and gain a deeper understanding.

So how do you Flow enough to get out of your own way, but be present enough to get everything you can out of it?

Anyone?

Seriously, I was asking you, because I’m still swamped by the question as much as anyone.

Well, if I can just spitball here, maybe that letting go is crucial to the INITIALIZING of the creative process. Like, if you’re scared that no matter what you put on the paper, it won’t look as good as in your head, that you don’t have your ideal materials, or workplace, or you don’t have enough time… something will ALWAYS find a way to get in the way. So that’s the point where it might be useful to take a breath, set out your tools, and see what happens. When you’re in the midst of making something and you hit a roadblock, or something isn’t coming out the way you want, maybe then it’s time to put away the artist brain for a moment and ask yourself why. Is it a perspective problem? Plot? Characters? Inking? Deconstruct it into as simple components as you can, try different things, access some resources online or otherwise, whatever. Try looking at it as a puzzle instead of proof that Uncle Gary was right all along and you’ll never amount to nuthin’ tryin’ to draw them funny pictures.

Do I know if it’ll work? Not even slightly, but it sounds at least plausible. At the very least, it’s better than sitting in a steamy stew of existential dread, staring at a blank page.

The quote was John Stuart Mill, by the way.

Vince Smith is an aspiring writer, podcast host, psychology/philosophy student, and dyed-in-the-wool geek of all trades. You can check out articles and Let’s Plays by him over at The Rogues’ Gallery, or drop by his Facebook Page, Vincent Smith: Writer, Scholar, Gentleman for other musings from the catacombs of the Internet.

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Sheer Wonder

Haven’t written in a couple days, figured I’d catch up. I’ve been thinking in the last couple days about answers to the question of what I want to do/be. I know in a previous post that I said I want to write movies, but that no longer seems like a sufficient enough answer to the question. The real answer is that looking at any one profession and going “That’s the thing I want to do” is no longer enough. Everyday, I absorb more inspiration through my experiences interacting with people, reading, watching, listening, working out, writing, etc. from EVERY outlet I can possibly find.  And with every new fount of information and experience I find, I find new ways to connect those experiences to other ones in novel ways. Ways that apply knowledge in ways you might not normally.

The fundamental nature of what I find interesting isn’t any one particular profession or area of expertise, but rather, the fact that all of them have enough analogous qualities that almost, if not every, domain of human knowledge could be modified and improved by taking into account the discoveries of all others. Therefore, it’s the interactions and relationships BETWEEN different domains of knowledge which fascinate me. The connections are all there, and the fact that there are so many more to be explored, examined, clustered and recombined into new ones, which then can ALSO be recombined is mindbogglingly wonderful. It almost makes me sad that I only have a certain amount of time on this planet with which to check all of these really cool things out. So much to do, so little time.

So when someone asks me what I want to do for a living, I don’t know what to respond, because I want to do everything! I want to write, blog, host, talk, voice-act, storytell, innovate, produce, edit, revise, CREATE. The career label is merely the incarnation of choice which I use to accomplish any of those given tasks at any given time, and so the question seems almost inappropriate in the tiny scale at which it is asked. But I’m comforted by the fact that such great minds as Henry Rollins and Chris Hardwick have felt the same kind of itchy curiosity to rip up the carpet of contemporary culture and look at all the little, intricate wires which connect every single aspect of them. Even moreso, I’m driven by the idea of the urge to mix and match the way those connections are structured, and pontificate and experiment with what the potential results can be.

There’s a level of beauty in the adjacent possible, the potential of one thing to be something entirely different to someone else at any given moment in time that almost exceeds any single incarnation of that thing that exists at a single point. Even typing that sentence, it’s like art and quantum physics and engineering and business and internet culture all colliding at a hundred miles an hour into an infinitely dense, hot mass of ideological potential, ready to birth an entire new universe of possibility.

And the fact that I have the desire and resources to explore that is… simply beyond words, beyond concept in how grateful I am for it. I won’t stop doing it until I am long-dead and in my grave, and I can only hope, can only dream that the fervor of my passion will be enough to inspire yet another to take up the cause once I’m gone. Inspiration: the most beautiful form of immortality there is.