Ernest Hemingway advises to stop writing when you feel like you’ve reached the high point of an idea. Joan Didion would put her manuscript in the freezer, when she felt stuck.
The more that I pursue creative endeavors, the more I realize that life is not about the end goal, but rather the journey; and the journey consists of chunks: bite-sized pieces of information, knowledge, and insights, that accrue over a long time. Recognizing this is so freeing because I can do a little bit of work every day, step away, and rest assured that my work will accrue in value like interest in a bank account.
Here is some brilliant insight from Ernest Hemingway:
The next morning, when you’ve had a good sleep and you’re feeling fresh, rewrite what you wrote the day before. When you come to the interesting place and you know what is going to happen next, go on from there and stop at another high point of interest. That way, when you get through, your stuff is full of interesting places and when you write a novel you never get stuck and you make it interesting as you go along.
As a recovering perfectionist and productivity addict, taking on this new mindset changed my life. It gave me a sense of control, but not the obsessive, fixated spinning in a hamster wheel kind of control - the good kind of control that makes you feel like you have influence, power to make your goals a reality, without pushing pedal to the medal and later suffering the consequences of breathing in burnt rubber.
Stephen Covey created a nice visual to illustrate the dichotomy between influence and concern. Influence is all the things that you have control over in your life i.e, your mindset, your thoughts, your words, your responses, your career choices. And concern is all the negativity like worry, obsession, and perfectionism. Through my own experience, I have learned that living a meaningful life means reducing my circle of concern, and expanding my circle of influence.
This means cutting negative things out that drain energy, like watching the news, which makes me feel powerless, and working for hours on a piece of writing, even though I am stuck, and in need of a break to see the writing from a different angle, expanding my circle of influence.
Joan Didion, in her essay On Self Respect, writes:
I lost the conviction that lights would always turn green for me, the pleasant certainty that those rather passive virtues which had won me approval as a child automatically guaranteed me not only Phi Beta Kappa keys but happiness, honor, and the love of a good man; lost a certain touching faith in the totem power of good manners, clean hair, and proved competence on the Stanford-Binet scale.
Turn your own lights green
Ah, the realization that lights will not always turn green for you, the maturity to realize that you are responsible for your actions and the way your life goes. At a certain point, you realize that you have the influence to move the needle of your life to your true north, but it will require a lifelong commitment to learning truths about yourself and the world, so the veil can finally be lifted and you see life for what it truly is, separate from the alternate reality you’ve created in your mind.
There are many paths to take in life, to learn truths. Ask the classicists, the people who think in systems and components and parts, and you will get one answer; ask the romantics, the people who think with intuition and feel and art, and they will tell you another; ask the rationalists, those who think by inductive and deductive logic, and they will tell you yet another way to discover truths.
It doesn’t really matter which path you take to uncover truths, but self-discovery is a critical ingredient in the journey. With all of life’s hustle and bustle, the important and meaningful things, like getting to know yourself, community, and relationships are forgotten, delayed, procrastinated, packaged up in a box and put on a shelf in the closet, in hopes of coming back to someday, maybe, later. But life just keeps moving, and the optimal time to declutter never comes, unless we intentionally take time to pause, slow down, and self-reflect.
And do it with a community
The path of self-discovery, where we open up to our inner creativity, resilience, and strength, should not be taken alone. It’s best taken in a community of likeminded people who will provide support along the bumpy ride. It’s the only way to maintain mental health, a cherished possession in both good and bad times, but especially in the bad, when our creativity, resilience, and strength, is tested the most.
Vincent Van Gogh is a good example of a suffering creative who lacked community. Van Gogh’s family was deeply worried about his non-conforming artist lifestyle, and his family’s concern deeply plagued him. In letters to his brother, Van Gogh writes about how he feels that he has untapped potential that expresses itself in idleness, or perhaps laziness (to his family), but really he’s missing something important, a spark, the momentum, to keep moving in a positive, healthy, forward moving direction. I think it is apparent that Van Gogh desperately craved and needed community.
Van Gogh writes to his brother:
There are idlers and idlers, who form a contrast.
There’s the one who’s an idler through laziness and weakness of character, through the baseness of his nature… Then there’s the other idler, the idler truly despite himself, who is gnawed inwardly by a great desire for action, who does nothing because he finds it impossible to do anything since he’s imprisoned in something, so to speak, because he doesn’t have what he would need to be productive, because the inevitability of circumstances is reducing him to this point. Such a person doesn’t’ always know himself what he could do, but he feels by instinct, I’m good for something, even so! I feel I have a raison d’être! I know that I could be a quite different man! For what then could I be of use, for what could I serve! There’s something within me, so what is it! That’s an entirely different idler.
What do you think?
Mochi, an online community that I participate in, created a Zine on the theme of Conspiracies. My friend Matt Reyes created a conspiratorial playlist. It’s kinda like a symphony, but sans melody, and with more screeching. Haha! You should really check it out for yourself to see what it’s all about. And while you’re at, you may also want to hit “Back” to check out other Zine submissions.