Whew! Confused yet? Just stay with me!…
When I teach conversation or brainstorming, I say, “If you’re stuck, just talk or write about why you can’t.”
In other words, if you can’t think of anything to say, talk about why you can’t. Even if you have to write, “I can’t write, I can’t write” over and over. Even if you have to keep repeating yourself. Just keep going. Sooner or later, almost always, something new will emerge. Some new words will begin tumbling out.
So here I am. I can’t write, and yet I’m obviously writing… Because once you get started writing about what you can’t write, it works! You’ll be getting ideas out. Maybe not Shakespeare or Toni Morrison, but I doubt they began with perfect thoughts either.
We all know many legitimate obstacles than can keep us from writing. Not writing is so bloody easy and writing, even if it’s our favorite, most beloved past-time, can prove so damn hard to do.
Sometimes we have not nothing, but too much to say. This takes the form of information overload, the kind where you catch yourself at 2am bleary eyed from delving the webiverse that you’ve been surfing for—OMG—the past six hours! There was a commercial—for what I do not know—where a zombie-like person kept randomly spouting Wikipedia factoids. My brain can certainly feel like that.
A related problem, we’re presented with choices everywhere we look. There are news, features, ads, happenings. How to know which one to follow, which one is relevant? How to let the flow of information to gush past, blessedly unnoticed, while magnetizing the important bits to us? Wouldn’t that be gorgeous? Advertisers, unfortunately, are trying to accomplish that all the time—as if their product is the necessary part.
Because of this, we need the opposite help. We need a magic scientific algorithm to understand our unique needs and point of view. Then we could use that tool to bar what is static to us, while allowing what is useful to us onto our front page. Problem: half the time I’m not sure what I need to hear.
I often get caught up in the presentation of previews or posters for a show, or a summary of a book. I try very unscientifically to descry from the wording what I will like. Sadly, I’ve learned that is an unreliable method. There have been many times where my sketchy impression was proven wrong.
For example, there was the documentary about origami. In no way is folding paper interesting to me or in my life. But as I watched, I became captivated. Presently, I happen to be reading a whole book about being plastic free. I’m interested in the topic, but I was skeptical about the size of the book. How many ways can a person talk about reducing plastic? Yet so far I’ve enjoyed every page. Then there was the one about the sushi chef. Why—I asked myself—should I care about the life of a sushi chef? Interestingly, I found out why.
Did I enjoy this information? Yes. Is it something my grey matter should be storing? The answer, so far, does not compute.
Luckily, I have found a couple of places where I can find information that I’ve consistently appreciated. Rotten Tomatoes tops that list. The way that they throw all critics into a blender to form one number on a spectrum is brilliant. That clear simple computation is so comforting. I know that it represents many intelligent, cogent voices. Ah.
That is also to say that in any other part of life except movies (movies .5%, other life 99.5%) I still have the time consuming job of sifting information. It’s like a swarm of gnats on a hot summer night. We get more mail now in a week, I’ve read, than people used to get in a year. You can swat the information gnats, but it’s a waste of time.
The modern favorite: Not enough time. Well of course not! When we’re spending so much time swatting gnats.
Now here is the good news. In all cases, writing about why we can’t write is an excellent start to writing.
This is because, one, I am putting pen to paper, or fingers to keys. Two, looking at obstacles is in itself very helpful. Thinking about what’s stopping me in my life gives voice to often unquantified issues that nag but aren’t clear. Diving into the why of why I can’t write allows me the space to study myself in a way that I often don’t, or can’t. It’s a doorway into studying –even recognizing things—thoughts, feelings, pressures—I might not have realized were there.
Ironically, by studying why I can’t write, I begin to write! Every word I find, every realization, even repeated, represents words on paper.
The gnats swarm, the information beckons. Time cruises by and people interrupt. But, if I take the time to, at worst complain and at best, set myself on a course for brain opening and revelation, I give myself that sacred time where I communicate with myself, and hopefully, my thoughts communicate with others’. This blog entry is evidence of that undertaking. Complaints, revelation–writing.