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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On The Lizard Brain

It’s been a while since I last updated. Which is ironic, considering the amount of stuff that’s happened to give things to think about. So here goes. Hopefully I can mine something useful out of this.

1) I had my second counselling appointment on Campus. It was a pretty productive session, and I got a couple of nuggets of wisdom which I’ve been thinking over ever since. My counsellor, Bruno, who is a very understanding and insightful guy, said he believes I have a lot to offer people in the way of opinions and insight, but he’s worried that I don’t see myself that way. I don’t see what I have to offer, and so I’m constantly trying to prove my own worth to people, and especially to myself.  It might be part of the reason why I get so frustrated with myself when I fail, it’s like a chunk of my self-worth is being chipped away with each stumble. I don’t really know how to change that… I have a lot of mental re-evaluation to do on that front. I’m afraid of losing my drive if I don’t hold myself to a high standard, but I’m thinking the manner of standard I’m using right now is just too damn self-destructive to be any use beyond taking one step forward and two steps back. I use just as mental energy flagellating myself when I mess up somehow as I do trying to formulate a situation.

I’ve had a lot of negative reinforcement in my life to push me to succeed. Whether it was my elementary school grades making up the majority of my identity to my parents, and having both myself and them FIXATE on them as a means to avoid a life in the gutter… or the verbal and anti-social beatings I took in Vancouver… the times I improved most were when I simply had to to avoid emotional pain. Which is something that I realize only just now is incredibly unhealthy… I find it so difficult to pursue positive results because I’m so used to investing effort so I can avoid the negative.  So when I get comfortable, that hindbrain, the Id, The Amygdala, the Lizard Brain, whatever you want to call it… the thing that seeks physical pleasure and avoidance of pain above all else, marshals all its strength to keep me there.  And often, it succeeds. I hope that a greater awareness of it and what it’s trying to do will help me stay on track more consistently, and more importantly… help me re-orient my thinking into less of a pain-avoidance mindset. I imagine it’ll help my anxiety and indecision to do so.

2)  I sat down and talked with my ex earlier this week, whom I haven’t talked to in six plus months. I’d asked if I could come to the Thanksgiving Potluck she and all of our friends were hosting, since I was unable to go home this past weekend. We talked for a while, talked about why we were so pissed at one another. Still not friends, and still not guaranteed we ever will be. It ended up being a nice conversation eventually, but she did tell me that she’d had a number of our mutual friends come up to her and ask what to do, because I’d made them uncomfortable talking on Skype or FB Messenger or whatnot talking about personal stuff, but were too polite to say anything.  Of course, she didn’t say WHO, exactly… so I’m not sure who I can bring up personal stuff to when it bothers me and they’ll be okay, and how many of them are just going to ignore me until I go away. It didn’t help when I messaged a bunch of people yesterday, just to say hey, and I either got super curt responses or total silence. So the take away I got from that is 1) I can’t trust people to be honest with me when it comes to if they feel uncomfortable, and 2) I come off too honest and too personal too quickly with people, and I need to work on that.

I just suck at small talk and want to talk about real, personally relevant things, and yearn for that personal connection with people. I just need to learn that connections like that have to build gradually, and I can’t push them into that territory right off the bat. It’s a tough lesson to learn, and I wish that I could’ve learned it directly from the source, and not from a third party. It’s funny that this came up, because it reaches back to the other thing my counsellor mentioned… that I’m REALLY impatient with… just about everything. Whether myself or my friendships, or my career aspirations and projects, it’s really hard for me to just accept that things take a while to build. There are a number of reasons why this could be, but I think it’ll take another full blog post to really address something that big. Anyways, I think that’s it for today.