Now I know how you feel. The bright screen staring back at you, the whiteness and emptiness of the blank page reflecting the lack that your brain is filled with. The blinking cursor daring you to put down the next sentence. The one you will hate. The one you will quickly delete as you return back to an empty screen. A screen that again only reflects the time, which is now 10 minutes past when you started. As Sunday fades into the darkness you frantically search for the idea to save you. The anecdote on which to anchor your reflection. The problem is, the harder you think the less emerges. Suddenly you begin to wonder who you are writing for, why you are writing and how something you once enjoyed could now be causing you so much pain. The thing is I get it. I feel your pain right now.
I wrote the above last night as I thought of my students hunched over their computers trying to reflect on the week as I did the same. Sitting and struggling to think of something to write about, I was reminded of their pleas this week to make it stop. As we reflected on our work in the Innovation Academy mid-semester, some students expressed that they felt that they were struggling to write something worth reading each week and the process was making them question their love of writing.
This made me reflect. I asked myself both why I was having students write and why they found it so hard. As I struggled with my own writing, I was left with two important reasons that I believe in writing.
First, as Anne Lamott so beautifully says, “writing motivates you to look closely at life, at life as it lurches by and tramps around.” What I think is so important about writing is that it encourages you to look for the details in the every day. When you know you have to write you begin to look for those moments which say something. In doing so, you begin to see that every moment has the potential to say something and it is that realization which I think is so important. In this way writing opens up our eyes, it forces us to stop, reflect and take in our experiences for use at a later time. Writing makes the mundane come alive and it forces the everyday details to become extraordinary. It forces us to be, as Henry James once said, someone on “on whom nothing is lost.” To me, this is the most important aspect of writing. While it is often a struggle, it is that struggle which forces us to be active participants that think about our days, rather than passive recipients on whom moment after moment is lost.
Second, writing forces us to realize that “perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people, which will keep us “cramped and insane” our “whole life.” Writing is powerful because every word, every draft and every imperfect thing that we write stares in the face of perfectionism and says, “you will not stop me.” Most of the time the hardest part of writing is wanting it to be perfect. In writing, especially in public blogs, we need to show our innermost thoughts, our imperfections, and our deepest feelings. In short, we need to display our imperfections to the world. But in displaying our imperfections we are also refusing to be kept in by the fear of being perfect. Once we realize that our writing will never be perfect, it gives us the freedom to explore in all areas of our life. In writing, just like in life, if you simply wait for the perfect anything you will be forever paralyzed. Similarly, just as you can’t hope you are going to be a success, you can’t hope that ideas will just emerge or that your writing will get better. The power lies in facing it. Word by word, sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph.
To conclude I want to leave you with two pieces of advice from a documentary short I recently watched called The Bull Rider:
“No matter what your problems are its just like going out and facing that bull. Look at what you’re up against and then figure a way to make it work.”
“If you go out there and just hope it’s going to happen, then its probably not going to happen. If you just hope you are going to be a success then good luck.”