Being a Writer is Meaningless

Writer's Block I

When I was a little kid, I wanted to write books. I don’t know how I got the idea, but I think it had to do with feeling that I was strange and other people didn’t understand me, therefore I was bound to be some kind of artist. Also, I won some silly little writing contest in the first grade, so I thought, “There we go! I’ve figured it out. I’m a writer.” It was handy for all those tedious years when adults incessantly ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“A writer,” I would say, thinking it made me sound quite smart. I never did get the awed response I hoped for, but I did start to believe in this idea of being a writer.

Unfortunately, it hadn’t occurred to me that a writer is not a thing you can just be because it doesn’t mean anything. You have to write something. And before you can write something, you have to care about something. When I tried to write fiction, I was completely unable to care about the characters. Sometimes it happened with essays, too. I’d realize after 200 or maybe 500 words that I was rambling on about nothing in particular, just thinking out loud. I feared this was a sign that I should give up because I obviously didn’t have anything to say, but I couldn’t just quit writing.

When I had strong feelings about anything, I needed to write it down in order to figure it out. For a while, I only wrote when I felt strongly about something, and I avoided cultivating any one topic for too long. Most of my ideas and projects would eventually bore me or prove to require more effort than I could to give. To be perfectly honest, I flaked out a lot because I didn’t care as much as I thought I should about my writing. Journalism was the worst for me because most of my assignments felt pointless, and I didn’t feel equipped to handle big stories without prior reporting experience. Writing in and of itself, done purely for its own sake, didn’t interest me at all.

I gradually accepted the truth: My childhood dream of being a “great writer” was based on a complete misunderstanding.

That’s when I realized I needed to tap into what I was most passionate about — not writing for its own sake or books in particular, but the things that mean the most to me. I experimented with a lot of different topics, but it took a while to find something that consistently inspired me. When I started talking about creativity, spirituality, yoga, and meditation, I knew I’d struck a nerve.

Now, I don’t know if what I’m doing is “good” writing. I don’t know if it’s entertaining or interesting. I have no clue if anyone besides me laughs at my cheesy jokes. But I’m noticing that I haven’t gotten bored with it, either. I haven’t stopped caring or run out of material. And the fun part is, now I get to trust my training and leap into the wind. All those years spent trying to shape perfect metaphors and construct clear sentences aren’t going to waste because I finally have something to say that’s worth the effort. At the same time, I have so much to say that I can’t obsess over every sentence, nor do I want to. If I’m trying to express a difficult idea, I pick the best metaphor I can and run with it and just cross my fingers that I’m getting it right. This work feels like riding my bike down a big hill — it’s exhilarating, and little risky, not the tortured process I put myself through in the past.

The other day I asked myself: Am I still a writer?

And do you know what the answer was? I don’t care.

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Weekly Assignment: Fortune Telling

Zelmoe Zandini

Wanna know what your future holds? It’s not as hard to predict as you might think. Stop and think about your life as it is right now. Think about your family life, your work/school situation, your general state of mind, your habits.

Write or draw the answer to the following question: What will my life look like in 5 years, 10 years, or 20 years if I continue on my current path? This is not a fanciful exercise in which we imagine what we want and pretend that it’s going to magically happen. Look for the likely natural outcome of your current actions. You might like some of what you see, and you might dislike some of it.

Maybe you see yourself getting some promotions. Maybe you imagine finishing your graduate program, publishing your first book, directing a play, starting a family, or traveling the world.

Or maybe you see yourself thinking “I shoulda quit that job when I had the chance.” “I should’ve said what I really felt.” “I should’ve tried just to see where it would lead.”

What can you change right now to make sure you get a little more from column A and a little less from column B?

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The Best Mix CD I’ve Ever Received

Feel The Music!

This is the playlist from the best mix CD I’ve ever received. I’ve lost a lot of good mixes over the years, but I managed to hang on to this one from my brother, who has possibly the best musical taste of anyone I know. He gave me this CD in the early 2000s when Modest Mouse was one of those bands you’d mention pseudo-casually to see if anyone noticed how cool you were for knowing about them. I’ve reconstructed the playlist on Youtube in order to share it with you. 🙂

As I was listening to this CD, I felt compelled to share it for several reasons. First of all, every track on here is pretty stellar. Second, I don’t know anyone else who can put Frank Sinatra and NOFX on the same playlist and make it work. Third, I find it fascinating how music stays with me over the years, and songs somehow take on more meaning. Anyway, I’m utterly in love with this playlist, and I’ve even considered having a listening party in which this CD is the focal point. Give it a listen and see what you think!

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Weekly Assignment: Just Start

START Great Lakes Naval Museum April 24, 201013

Once upon a time, I had a really sweet client who knew I was a writer and would occasionally ask how my writing was going. I didn’t really think he grasped what it meant to be a writer (because I am a snob), so I would always answer in some short, generic way that discouraged him from asking too many questions. I’d say, “Oh, it’s going OK. I’m doing a little freelance work here and there, but nothing very interesting.” Once, I told him I was working on a book and he told me he always wanted to write a book.

“Why don’t you?” I asked.

“I know it’s crazy, but I’m afraid I would get a deal where I have to write like two or three books, and I’d get writer’s block for the second book.”

RUN Great Lakes Naval Museum April 24, 201015

I actually laughed (again, because I’m kindof a jerk). That would be a lovely problem to have, but his real problem was that he talked himself out of starting.

Just start, guys. You don’t know where it’s going to lead. You might not even finish the project, much less get a contract and earn money for it. Publishers aren’t exactly handing out multi-book contracts like candy these days. The world will not know to miss your creativity if you never try.

If your fear is that you won’t be able to finish the project, try and set that aside long enough to start. You will start many many projects in your lifetime, and not all of them will get finished. You may find that the project isn’t what you thought it would be. You might put it aside after only a couple hours of work. But the sooner you start, the sooner you can find out and, if necessary, move on to the next one.

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The Saturday Special: Unreasonably Happy Edition

Untitled

Hey guys,

This has been the kind of week during which I feel constantly on the verge of happy tears, kinda like the last time I went to San Francisco. It’s the kind of week that’s so good I’m not sure I can handle being this happy for this long. Like the dopamine receptors in my brain are actually worn down and going, “Dude, can we just calm down a minute?”

Ellie and I have done a ton of work on our podcast, Write Against the Machine, and I’m really proud of how it’s looking. I’ve been managing the tech side of things with backup from my genius husband while Ellie has whipped the design into shape. Check out them sexy graphics, right? This week, we released Episode 4: Creative Super Friends, Assemble! This episode is all about how to build up your creative circle of friends with people who both support and challenge you.

AND I started teaching online yoga classes. I was mentally prepared for a lot of snags and hangups, but once we got started, it was super easy and fun! If you missed the first one, don’t worry: I’ve added more classes to the schedule already. Right now, online classes are just on Thursday, but I’m considering adding another day. If you want to put in your vote for a particular day or time, let me know in the comments!

Finally, here are the tasty bits from the rest of the internet: 

That’s it for me this week. I hope you’re all well and happy. Take good care of yourselves!

xoxo~

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