Writing advice. Every writer’s excuse to not write.
At some point in the life of a writer s/he is hard-pressed to give out advice on writing. It speaks both of the delusion and desperation that is inherent to the art.
First off, I have no intention to establish authority. I have none. If the number of people reading the blog is the criteria to go by, I shouldn’t even be calling myself a writer. But that’s like saying you don’t exist because you don’t have a Facebook account.
Writing was a fun thing I discovered three years ago. Until then, my average time with a hobby was two weeks. So it rattled me when I stayed on with this all year.
Let’s start with something everyone loves to talk about: the writing process.
I write when I can. I like it. I don’t have a word-count target. I don’t make outlines, don’t do any research and don’t belong to a mastermind group of cannabis users. There’s no special chair, variety of coffee bean, a preferred direction of cross breeze, brand of paper/pen/software that helps me write. I write on a computer; I need to be alone (this is true even when I am not writing); I need to hear the mating call of a specific bird for inspiration (pretty normal in the wide scheme of writing routines) and, finally, as implausible as this may sound, I edit. I haven’t taken a course in writing and my grammatical prowess is embodied by my ability to use the word “shit” across all parts of speech.
With that glorious past out of the way, here’s my advice to you:
Stay with the blank screen (or paper). That’s it. Take care. Cheerio.
How’d you feel if I ended the essay there? That’s the feeling I have each time I read up advice on writing.
The longer your ability to stare at the blank screen, the better you will get at writing. Because when you start writing, the nothingness of the screen (or paper) is the first thing you will confront. Not the ability to write as much as the ability to stay with the white noise when you cannot.
Made up woman: “That guy has been staring at a blank screen for three hours”
Made up man:”He must be working.”
Made up woman: “No, he hasn’t written a word.”
Made up man: “Should we call the cops?”
In case you are wondering, is this the most productive way to spend time, it’s not. And if that bothers you, writing is definitely not for you. You lucky dawg.
Here’s a typical writing day. One day, I am staring unblinkingly at the screen with only my eye and wrist moving — and I blast out an essay in an hour, ignoring everything around me (this happens exactly once every year). Another day, I am pacing about, stopping only to calculate the number of times the cursor blinks per minute on MS word, and by the end of the afternoon I have written an impressive sum of seven words, two of which are “shit.” But at least I wrote something and that’s still better than nothing. Then there are those days when I have been staring at the blank screen for certifiably psychotic hours, questioning the purpose of the universe, of writing, and of pigeons – in that order.
These are the days which decide whether I will continue writing, ever, again.
There have been days when I say screw this, give up and move on — having written nothing. This isn’t easy because that’s exactly my process to quit on things. The days when I stay just a little longer with the purposelessness of it all – with the blank screen – I swear to God, I am sure I witness the big bang. When words come not in drizzles and rain, but like a hurricane, a flood. The writing sucks but who gives a shit. Writing becomes a process of building the ark. A rescue mission for the world inside you.
For long, writing and the suffering it brings have been romanticized. That’s not my intention with this essay. As far as making wealth or fame goes, writing may be (sure is) a bad choice, but what makes writers (and most artists) savage souls is their spirit. Suffering is a part of this spiritual journey. What breaks the writer is the mixing up of spirituality with success. To remain unbroken is the pact between you and the blank screen. It’s why you need to get used to it.
Asking a writer if s/he will ever stop writing is like asking someone how long they’ll continue to live. Art is an attempt to make the most of being alive. Even if the art ceases to exist with respect to the world, it never truly ends for the artist. I can take down this blog but that doesn’t mean I have stopped writing. It just means WordPress has increased the subscription fee.
This is not about perseverance. It’s about Trust. A belief. And, if you like to be tickled: faith. The things you had as a child before you were indoctrinated by adulthood. This is less a process to write (well) and more a process to understand existence.
I don’t want to make it look like writers redeem the world. I mean these are people whose self-worth is tied to their self-hatred. But these are also people who live in their heads so the rest of us can get out of ours. They don’t become heroes by rescuing us. They are heroes because they show us how to rescue ourselves, allowing themselves to be consumed in the process. There’s something colossally touching about the whole endeavor.
And the beginning of this journey is a nothingness, a blank screen.
And so is the end.
So is the end.