I can’t write this article because there are a million and one things going on in my life that need my attention. There’s the toddler, the misses, the family, the new job, the bills, my friends, the weather sucks; the world is falling apart. A million things are going on, and I just can’t find the time to write. Even if I wanted, I can’t. I’m suffering from severe writer’s block.
My energy is low, and every day I’m wondering if this is the day I will get the flu or if I will live to fight another day. Every day I wake up and feel just a little more tired than the day before, even though I slept 8 hours straight. I’m slacking off on my morning routine, and I have a hard time to keep the positive mindset that comes naturally to me. If I keep going on like this, will I break? The question isn’t if I will break, but when.
I just can’t
Even if I want to write this article, I can’t. Apart from the million and one things going on, there’s the issue of writer’s block that seems at an all-time high. Deep inside, I want to write this article, but I just can’t. I’m out of inspiration; I’m not feeling it, I’m in a funk, I want to call it a night and try again tomorrow, because maybe tomorrow I’ll feel better, or maybe I won’t. This case of writer’s block could last a day, or maybe even months, I don’t know. It’s out of my control.
I know you would agree with me that I didn’t write this article, with all the things going on. You’d even pad me on the back for hanging in there like a trooper, right? Sure, I know you will.
Overcoming writer’s block
So, how come you are reading this when I didn’t write it? Because I did write it. Because a million and one things that are going on will always go on. There’s a simple word for the accumulation of these things, which is ‘life’. That one dude from The Beatles said it best: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”. For the most part, I stopped making plans, so I can be present and own my life while it’s going on.
So, how come you are reading this when I didn’t write it? Because I did write it. Because I don’t believe in writer’s block, I don’t believe in waiting until it magically feels right. I don’t believe that art comes before doing the work. Just like I don’t believe that passion comes before doing the work.
I used to think that writer’s block was a real thing. I took months off from making music because it just wasn’t working. And because it wasn’t working I responded with not working on it myself. I would sit in the studio and give it 30 minutes only to find out writer’s block was still calling the shots.
Do the work
But writer’s block is bullshit. Just like finding your passion is bullshit. In both cases, the answer is simple; do the work. If you can’t create something that’s good, the answer is to keep creating until it is. The answer is to make a lot of music that’s awful until it isn’t.
Everybody knows this is a fact for baking pancakes. The first one always fails. Imagine all the delicious blueberry pancakes that would have never made it to the Sunday breakfast table if we would stop because the first one failed. Imagine my daughter’s face when I tell her no pancakes today because the first one failed. No matter what’s going on in my life, pancakes will be made.
The reason I write this today is that I didn’t want to write. If I would believe in writer’s block, then this would not be here. I just came up with a list of reasons why I couldn’t write this, but I’m done hiding.
Seth Godin introduced me to a concept he calls ‘hiding’, which stuck with me ever since. Hiding means you’ll do whatever to avoid doing the real work. We’ve all been there. You have to make a bad news phone call, and you know it’s urgent, but all of a sudden there’s more important stuff; you have to clean your desk, you have to empty your mailbox, the laundry, you need a new logo, you need to mop the floor. But, if you’re really honest, the only thing is you are hiding from the actual work.
Seth also tells the story of Stephen King’s pencil many times. Whenever Stephen King is speaking at a conference for writers, there’s always the same question that comes up, which is: “What type of pencil do you use to write your books?” Stephen King never answers the question. But why? It’s such an easy question that can be answered in seconds. The answer is; it doesn’t matter.
Answering the question makes it seem like it does, but it doesn’t. It’s just another way to hide, to not do the work, to convince yourself you can’t start yet because you don’t have that pencil, you don’t have the Moleskine, you don’t have a desk under a window where the sun rises from the East, but all this doesn’t matter.
Steven Pressfield talks about the resistance. A force that’s always present. No matter how good you become, it’s still there. The higher the stakes and the need to do something, the bigger the force gets. The trick is to learn to dance with the resistance. The trick is to use the resistance as a trigger to do the work. The higher the stakes are, the harder it pushes. Whenever you are hiding, it’s because the resistance is pushing. You’re playing hide and seek.
Doing the work and showing yourself has very little to do with the materials you have to create. Things don’t fuel authenticity and creativity; they are fueled by you. Masterpieces have been created with things that were found in the dumpster, ready to be burnt to ashes.
Go for mediocre
The difference between something that works and something that doesn’t most of the time is just a detail. I’ve spent days working on a new record that just wasn’t working. I lost my fire; the groove wasn’t there. And then out of the blue, something clicks, and everything falls into place. The groove is back; the speakers are thumbing. My inactive physique jumps up, and chills run down my spine. My sad face turns upside down. This is it! Yes, it is. But it only happened because I kept at it while everything was working against me, even me.
To make something that’s great, you have to create a lot that’s at best mediocre. Be able to focus and work without distraction. Make something that’s embarrassing and work on it. The point is to do the work and not worry about the details. Fuck the details; they will come in the end.
Make something. You can adjust along the way, change it when you don’t like it, but at least there’s something there to work with. Something that can be taken in and criticized. Something has happened, there’s something here that wasn’t here yesterday. You have a 1.0 version. App developers even work like this. They go to the market as soon as possible, gather feedback and make a 1.1 version and so on and so on.
Do it anyway
Writing this post took longer than it should; it isn’t as good as it could be. If I took more time, it could be better, but that isn’t the point. The point is to keep the ball rolling. The point is to stop hiding, and the point is to deal with that constant pressure from the resistance. Taking ownership of whatever it is, that’s going on in my life, and to do the work anyway is also the point. The point is to dance in the rain instead of waiting for the sun to breakthrough. And the point is to show myself that if I can do this in writing, I can do this in any part of my life.
So, this writing here isn’t a masterpiece; it isn’t something I’m very proud of; it doesn’t even come close to being my favorite writing. It ranks somewhere at the bottom, but that isn’t the point.
The point is to take ownership of my own life and to do the work. The point is that no matter what’s going on in my life, I’m capable of doing the work I want to do. I’m in control of my life, and I adjust the sails accordingly. If I’m able to adjust these sails, I’m able to adjust any sail in my life; therefore, I own my life.
The point of the pencil
Taking ownership of your life brings gifts in many ways. Taking ownership shows that you won’t break, but that you are just getting started. It pulls you out of a funk; it kicks ‘writer’s block’ out the door, it gives you the power to juggle a million and one balls and shows that you can do way more than that. It lets you bake pancakes whenever the fuck you want, it gives you good vibes no matter how short you sleep and it gives you the energy to look the flu in the eyes and say “bring it on, bitch”.
So, did I disappoint you with this writing? Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. It doesn’t’ really matter. I wrote this out of a selfish act, which is self-improvement. Even if you didn’t really like the writing, there’s one thing you can take away from this that can change your life: Stop asking Stephen King which pencil he uses.
Photo credit: Ryan McGuire