“Don’t censor yourself. Don’t go along with the crowd. Don’t be greedy. Don’t be cheap.
Young as you are, play dead — so that your eyes will stay open.” – Nadine Gordimer
Thus ends Jeffrey Eugenides’ advice to 10 Whiting Award winners this past year. Words that resonate strongly with me during this holiday season for one reason: it’s a swift kick-in-the-pants I need to get me back to writing.
But, more importantly, it’s a welcome thought reminding me of the real reason I started this blog: to find my passion, and to find my inner voice. Words that give me hope that it may not be too late to revive my writing after all.
Other points of wisdom in the article that bestirred my writer’s conscience:
1. “A serious person should try to write posthumously”
That was Nadine Gordimer to Christopher Hitchens. Mortality’s a theme revisited by many artists because “almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”
Or as Hitchens put it:
“By that I took her to mean that one should compose as if the usual constraints — of fashion, commerce, self-censorship, public and, perhaps especially, intellectual opinion — did not operate.”
Either way, it can be a most liberating thought. And one that frees up a creative block and forces you to think straight – for the long term.
2. Write with purpose, find your calling
For a while there, I halted my blogging coming up with a flimsy excuse that I needed to find an audience before I shared my words. Every day was an excuse to skip putting my words down on WordPress, while I evaded the hard work of capturing those fleeting thoughts.
I still recall the first time my blog got recognized with a spike in traffic (hat tip to Jason Calacanis). It was one of those magical moments where my passion met an audience. It can’t be planned, it can’t be faked.
You write your first stuff pretty much for yourself, not thinking anybody will read, much less publish, it, not thinking it’ll earn money, therefore not worrying about pleasing anyone or falling in line with any agenda; not worrying about censoring yourself, either, because who’s going to see it? And, miraculously, it worked out.
But once you find the audience, your mind starts working in reverse trying to please that audience, grow that audience, so you repeat yourself with popular “Top 10” posts, etc. And over time all you’re left with is drivel.
You might begin to forget the person you are in order to write and sound like someone else. Alternately, you might be tempted to repeat yourself. To follow the fashion of your own previous work, to stop exploring, learning and trying new things, for risk of failure.
If you try to write posthumously, however, fashion doesn’t apply.
As far as a blog is concerned all that’s within my control is to write with honesty and try to share that with a few good people who may appreciate it.
As Kurt Woolf, Kafka’s first publisher in Germany, wrote to him after Kafka’s book tanked, “You and we know that it is generally just the best and most valuable things that do not find their echo immediately.”
Fashion is the attempt to evade that principle: to be the echo of someone else’s success and, therefore, to create nothing that might create an echo of its own.
3. Remember when and why it all started
The fuel to keep going is simple yet elusive. My favorite passage in the entire article is Eugenides reminding the writers of why they started writing.
“When you started writing, in high school or college, it wasn’t out of a wish to be published, or to be successful, or even to win a lovely award like the one you’re receiving tonight.
It was in response to the wondrousness and humiliation of being alive.
Remember? You were fifteen and standing beside a river in wintertime. Ice floes drifted slowly downstream. Your nose was running. Your wool hat smelled like a wet dog. Your dog, panting by your side, smelled like your hat. It was hard to distinguish.
As you stood there, watching the river, an imperative communicated itself to you. You were being told to pay attention. You, the designated witness, special little teen-age omniscient you, wearing tennis shoes out in the snow, against your mother’s orders. Just then the sun came out from behind the clouds, revealing that every twig on every tree was encased in ice. The entire world a crystal chandelier that might shatter if you made a sound, so you didn’t. Even your dog knew to keep quiet.
And the beauty of the world at that moment, the majestic advance of ice in the river, so like the progress of the thoughts inside your head, overwhelmed you, filling you with one desire and one desire only, which was to go home immediately and write about it.”
That’s it. Every blog post I’ve written that was ever worth reading was a response to that overwhelming desire to describe…
“The majestic advance of ice in the river.”
And somewhere along the way, somewhere in 2012, I completely lost that wonder. Circumstances and stress may have had something to do with it but I’m sure there will always be opportunities for stress. I feel like it’s about time I once again started reacting to the magic around me.
And over time, I bet, the rest will add up too.
The magic will happen. The dots will connect.
As a wise soul once reminded us:
“Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.
Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.
And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”