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Writing is a tricky, tricky business.
Putting pen to paper, pecking compulsively at a backlit keyboard, is similar to hacking through deep, oppressive, tangly jungle with a blunt machete.
The going is not easy. It is bitter, sweat-inducing, heavy work.
Any writer knows that words, if they’re any good at least, have to be hard won—scrabbled together like a prospector extracting gold from a muddied stream. For every pound of dirt, there may well be less than an ounce of gold.
Grappling with one's thoughts, attempting to pin them down, getting them in line, and converting them from electrical signals to veritable hieroglyphics and colored pixels is downright difficult business.
That said, this arduous slog allows the thinker to clear mental fescue and trod a well-laid path. To write (even poorly) is to better map one’s mind, order one’s perceptions, and refine one’s thoughts.
Indeed, the clearings and ruts left from all the difficult hacking make future adventure and traversing that much more simple and easy; not only for the writer, but also for all those that follow in his footsteps.
In a way, all those that trace the tendrils of his ruminations, that ingest his ideas, have walked his path with him.
The key for the writer is to catch one of the elusive Big Ideas hurtling through his head and to let the light that radiates from it illuminate the way forward.
But what makes one of these Big Ideas?
How do you ride these little sparks of madness to coherent, full-fledged pieces?
What if you are at a loss for any sort of idea or inspiration?
How do you survive the torture that is an unyielding bout of writer’s block?
Joseph Conrad once described this feeling perfectly:
My head feels as if full of sawdust…Of course many people’s heads are full of sawdust—the tragic part of the business is my being aware of it…I ask myself sometimes whether I am bewitched, whether I am the victim of an evil eye?
I assure you—speaking soberly and on my word of honour—that sometimes it takes all my resolution and power of self control to refrain from butting my head against the wall. I want to howl and foam at the mouth but I daren’t do it for fear of waking the baby and alarming my wife. It’s no joking matter…
So the days pass and nothing is done. At night I sleep. In the morning I get up with the horror of that powerlessness I must face through a day of vain efforts.
God, do I empathize.
You see, I am the ideal candidate for writer’s block.
All the classic defects converge within me—inexperience, impatience, perfectionism, confusion, fear.
I often stand as executioner at the chopping block of ideas: decapitating clauses, mutilating sentences, and taking grammar to the guillotine. My mental repository is full of sentences, words, paragraphs not taken. A shelf of tools—periods, commas, semicolons—sit dusty and unused.
I suffer from a naive view that writing should be easy, that words should simply flow out of me as water from a faucet.
Spoiler alert: they do not.
Ironically, when procrastinating the writing of this very post, I stumbled upon a quote from Sebastian Junger:
If you have writer’s block, you don’t have enough ammunition.
That line hit me squarely in the gut.
I realized that writer's block reflected more about my ideas than my writing.
Like most things in life, I found that my writer’s block could be solved by a simple fix: a change in perspective.
Author and adman Rory Sutherland elucidates this concept brilliantly in his uproarious 2012 TED Talk. It’s worth a watch in full, however, in short, he maintains that the circumstances of our lives matter less than how we see them:
If Rory doesn’t do it for you, who better to comment on perspective and observation than the one and only Sherlock Holmes?
With this novel perspective came copious amounts of ammunition.
I realized that no matter how seemingly innocuous, trite, or mundane my surroundings, if I peered closely, I could find what writer Saul Bellow called “unexpected intrusions of beauty.”
For, the world holds tremendous grandeur as long as we allow ourselves to truly see it.
There is so much material to be found in the monotonous, in the minute.
We simply have to get out of our own way.
To me, the art of getting out of your own way—of living—lies in becoming sensitive to the little things.
A child delirious with laughter.
A night’s sky peppered with glinting stars.
A heaping gulp of cool, fresh air.
A quiet (or very loud, in my family’s case) night spent playing a board game.
A tight hug from a loved one.
The key is to pay attention and see the minutiae as miracles in and of themselves.
Invest your attention into the art of living.
Remember, against truly staggering odds, two things happened:
One, the universe.
I leave you with quotes from two brilliant minds:
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” — Albert Einstein
“You can become blind by seeing each day as a similar one. Each day is a different one, each day brings a miracle of its own. It's just a matter of paying attention to this miracle.” — Paulo Coelho
Find your miracle in the mundane.
The Best of the Rest
This week, I present some pretty neat things I found while battling my crippling case of writer’s block.
Going up for auction on October 6th at Christie's in New York, this is considered a "once in a generation chance" to own such a rare scientific treasure.
☢️Chic COVID Gear — Louis Vuitton Launches $961 COVID Face Shields
After all, protection is priceless…
Ireland or an anatomically correct heart?
Per my about page, White Noise is a work of experimentation. I view it as a sort of thinking aloud, a stress testing of my nascent ideas. Through it, I hope to sharpen my opinions against the whetstone of other people’s feedback, commentary, and input.
If you want to discuss any of the ideas or musings mentioned above or have any books, papers, or links that you think would be interesting to share on a future edition of White Noise, please reach out to me by replying to this email.
With sincere gratitude,