Writing day after day after requires focus, discipline and physical exertion. The ease with which I can distract myself from these behaviors continues to amaze me. I can even make writing a kind of distraction, particularly when I jump from one genre of writing to another.
Each genre of writing, whether it is poetry, screenwriting (fiction and documentary), nonfiction (how-to, memoir, essays, magazine articles, history and so on), fiction or short stories, have their own requirements and expectations.
I’ve written two screenplays, several novels, many magazine articles and memoir essays. What a crazy decision in retrospect. Going broadly might have benefits for others. But for me I’ve merely attained mediocrity across several genres. Nice, right?!?
Learning how to write screenplays or short stories or narrative essays takes time and practice. Working on that form for awhile, only to put it aside to try my hand at memoir or fiction or short stories or whatever shiny chicken catches my attention, fails to deepen my skills in a particular genre. If practice is the artist’s equivalent of a woodworker sharpening a saw, then my approach is like honing a knife with a rock.
Sure, some parts of the edge may sharpen up. But the entire length of the blade, and the overall ability of the knife to cut, remains dull.
The stopping and starting and stopping and starting in various genres has taught me a very important writing lesson, though, perhaps the most important one I’ve ever learned. It is easier to keep going if I choose a few forms and work in those genres consistently.
I know what I need to do. I simply struggle to do it.
Truthfully I never struggle with a writing problem. But I do battle with a Jay problem like every minute of every day with made-up excuses about why I can’t stick to my chosen genres or why I can’t write today.
Thus, the problem of writing is a problem of Jay (feel free to insert your name here).
I’ve been meditating off and on (mostly off) for many years. Meditation has taught me to watch my thoughts, exposing me to how much time I spend ignoring the present, choosing instead to watch the dramatic films in my head, filled as they are with ego wounds, lost opportunities and regrets.
Today I’m feeling bored and want to give up on novel writing?
Cue up Reel Number 4672: Boredom stars in this one as the enemy, with the Protagonist cast as the Sheeny, Shiny, Bright and Burnished new genre aka the best genre evah!
“Over there the sunshiny genre awaits. One in which you will be expert without even trying! Pulitzers are yours! Over there you’ll never be a bored, scared, tired writer,” the film whispers in a continuous loop.
But then cue up Reel Number 5795 starring Consistency, Perseverance and Hope as the hero. Meditating hips me to the reality of both films running in my mind head. If my luck stays awake, she’ll remind me to breath and pay attention.
Otherwise, I get caught up in the drama generated by the seeming opposition between these two movies. The tension tightens and tightens and tightens and oh, look! Here’s Facebook and Instagram and Netflix and the Laundry pushing a quick fix.
The Fix, cast in the role of the friend who is really the villain, temporarily loosens the tension, hiding from me this multi-layered drama playing out in my own mind. The Fix distracts with lures like tv binge watching (“I’m researching an article”), or mindlessly scrolling through Facebook (“Where is that article I want to quote???”) or even doing so-called good things like cleaning or raking the leaves (“I’m a good person when I tend to my home chores”).
The Fix creates the effect I desire. Numbing my self to myself I generate surface noise. The deeper tensions, the fruitful stresses and the creative pressures that might led to better and stronger writing disappear — again — in a wave of dope.
Meditation teaches me how create a spaciousness around the films in my head, so that after some time I am less likely to find myself in their thrall.
The spaciousness created between the meditating/observing me and the me sitting in the audience caught up in my own films can allow me me to slip out of the theater. Then I can recommit to my chosen genres, face the struggle and write. It doesn’t always happen like that. But when it does I feel a deep moral/spiritual victory.
The work of creating mental spaciousness is always a spiritual one, which is why the work of becoming a successfully published writer is, for me, a spiritual one, too.
I continue to learn a lot about myself, much of it meritless. Like how hypocritical I am, how much personal responsibility I lack and how I snort The Fix, almost perpetually.
So Caveat Scriptor, I tell myself know. Let the writer, beware. To become a better, more productive writer, I must become a better, more productive versions of myself.