I'm having a hard time coming up with something to write about today. This is not an uncommon problem for writers, somedays all one can do is check one's email, listen to a couple of podcasts, read a little, and accept that today will not be the day the Great American Novel gets started. At least not started by me. I'm starting to get into a rut when it comes to going to the gym or writing passionate prose. I blame this prolonged winter of our discontent. There are only so many days of grey skies and frigid temps that I can put up with in a row before the urge to be creative starts to drain. This is precisely why I made the silly goal of writing everyday, come existential rain or shine. If you read any book on the practice of writing, the first bit of advice that is dulled out is that you have to write everyday. There are hundreds of takes on how one should write, or what time a day a person should write, or what kind of environment the writer should be in while writing, but the one indisputable fact is that a writer should always be writing. I can see you rolling your eyes, dear reader. There is nothing more obvious than telling someone that, if they want to get better at a subject, they have to practice said subject on a consistent basis. The thing I want to stress to young writers, and I would throw myself into this boat, is that writing is a skill that requires daily practice, because every day away from the blank page creates a void between the writer and the work that grows exponentially. There are some hobbies that I've picked up over the course of my lifetime that I will always maintain a relative amount of skill at. I haven't shot a basketball in a couple of years, but I have little doubt that i could go to a gym tomorrow, shoot around for awhile, and be more-or-less the same caliber of player that I've always been. It helps that I was never much skilled to begin with. With writing the opposite is true. When I started writing in earnest again this year, I felt like I was completely starting from scratch, even though I had written a bunch of short stories the year before. I had to write for a solid month before I got to a place where I didn't hate every sentence I was writing. Now I just hate every other sentence.
(That last sentence was OK I guess.)
It is not easy for me to have a daily practice. My attention tends to wonder from subject to subject. Last weekend I found myself watching live streams of people playing a video game that I have absolutely no interest in playing myself. I was watching this stream for over an hour before it dawned upon me that, for as interesting as this game seems to be for all of the other people watching, I could be doing things that I had an active interest in. There's a funny bit in the movie Kicking and Screaming (the Noah Baumbach movie, not the Will Ferrell soccer flick) where a group of post college friends are about to head out to a bar. One of the guys is watching a commercial for laundry detergent and refuses to leave until he finds out if they are going to get a stain out of the carpet. His friend rolls his eyes and says something to the effect of, "it's a commercial, of course they are going to get the stain out," but the entire group watches the last ten seconds of the commercial before they go. The image of the entire group intently watching the dumb commercial before carrying on with their day is a perfect analogy for my relationship with the internet. I'm the kind of guy who will do hour long deep dives on Earnest Hemingway's letters to Fitzgerald, then spend another hour watching a behind the scenes video of the making of a Wilco album. My brain has an insatiable appetite for pop culture minutia. I could make the argument that spending all this time consuming the internet like I'm Pac-Man and obscure trivia are my power pellets, is making me a more interesting person, and therefore a better story teller. I could make that argument, but it would mostly be bullshit.
I spend so much time filling my head with other people's voices that it drowns out my own voice - both in daily conversation and my writing. This has made the daily writing challenge all the more imperative for me to find my own voice as a writer. When I am deep into a writing session, it's like someone turns down the giant volume knob on the rest of the world. What's left is a inner quietness in which my thoughts become organized and transcribable. This is as close as I'm ever going to get to meditation, and even if nothing comes of this writing project besides a couple of minutes of serenity in my daily life, it will probably be worth it. The price I have to pay for these bite-sized bits of bliss is a whole lot of self doubt and frustration, but the payoff is always worth it. If you are a fellow writer out there, I'm sure you share a similar feeling.
The thing I miss most from my sports writing days, was having a reliable subject to work with. You cover enough sporting events and eventually you fall into groove. When you are writing game recaps the outcomes may be different, but the story stays the same. That's also the bad thing about writing about sports, no matter who the players are, or how the statistics are valued at a given time, the story will still be Team A beats Team B. But - no matter how tedious the repetition was - even if I was stuck covering the local high school basketball beat for a small town paper - I would still find myself getting to the place where I was in the eye of the hurricane of my own consciousness. Getting to a state of peaceful nothingness through total concentration is a mysterious and wonderful thing. It's what we are all chasing, and I count myself lucky to have found my own route to it. All of that repetition eventually started to make sports seem meaningless, but the writing always felt meaningful.
Every day that I spent away from my keyboard in the past couple of years felt like I was drifting further and further from my own little island of happiness. What can I say, I was at a point in my life where I didn't want to do the hard work of making myself happy. I would have a day like today, where the words were just not coming, and would give up. No matter how miserable I got, or how much I started to hate myself, I was content to be lazy. I still feel the pull of that person when I'm having a tough day, and the last thing I want to do devout a lot of mental energy into a practice that often seems like it's fruitless. The doubt monsters will be quick to say, "You're not going to be a famous writer. This isn't gong to bring you riches. What's the point?" That's when I have to look back to all of those little moments of inner peace and realize that it is the writing itself that is important. The process is its own reward, don't anyone ever tell you otherwise.