HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated March 10, 2013 – 12:00am
When I am trying to find something to write, I often catch myself staring at the blank screen while my mind actively seeks out a topic. It goes through an array of compiled and unarranged, catalogued and unrecognized, complete and incomplete ideas, random and raw and un-analyzed thoughts that it can seize and make a big deal of. Sometimes, my mind sorts through all these undefined sparks of inspiration in a calm way, and decides to pick one of them for an article. Then I expand it with words.
That’s when writing is easy.
At other times, my mind is not calm at all. It is racing nervously as it looks at the clock and the deadline of submission while coming close to panic. It is like a car in a tight spot but with a very impatient driver. It bumps into everything everywhere and in so doing causes more panic and raises tension. I feel pressured, and grouchy, and sometimes even wonder why I commit to writing assignments in the first place. It only stops when I catch myself. But often, the “self-catching” is a temporary reprieve and the staring at the blank screen resumes together with the restlessness after awhile.
At times like these, my mind is screaming, “What the f*** can I possibly write about that I haven’t touched on in the past?” And then the great critic that lives inside my head appears, menacingly reminding me of my limitations as a writer and even as a human being. This makes me feel even more harassed and pressured to produce something monumental, not unlike the girl in Rumpelstiltskin who must spin gold overnight for submission by morning.
To say it is a frustrating exercise is an understatement. It is too mild a description that one sounds like he is almost in denial of the true distress he is feeling. It is downright unnerving and upsetting when nothing crystallizes and no writing happens. The elusive subject is like keys to a maleta one may have misplaced, or a name of a person remembered and very present yet elusive at the tip of one’s tongue.
But in between the mental rants, the mind also hears its own intuition whispering amid the din of distress saying, “The topic you want is not far away. It is right there under your nose.” Even you know it is there. You just have to wait for it to appear. Or more accurately, you just have to really look.
Sooner or later, you realize that one needs to simply surrender, calm down and take stock of one’s self. One needs a quieting, a calming of the mind, an acknowledging of that field of potential that is there, a bright abundant flower garden waiting for you to go and pick out a few roses. The field where everything including creativity arises, where there is lots of breathing space and time to do things does exist. You know it does because you have seen it a few times before.
If you can get to this state of calm, then you can begin to look at yourself and notice where the flow of the mind’s ocean is going and follow with it with great interest.
And where it goes is what one must write about.
To me, breaking out of writer’s block will always be unsuccessful when one tries too hard. One must not try. But then not trying is also dangerous so one must try, I guess. I know it sounds contradictory. In short, one must try and not try at the same time. It’s a paradox. In the end, one must not try to write the masterpiece but must simply just write. To obsess on writing that “great work” in the middle of an episode of writer’s block is to almost guarantee writing won’t happen. Just write. Without conditions. That is the Zen of writing.
Shakespeare and almost all prolific writers were successful because they went with the flow, not resisted it. They simply went with it wherever it wanted to go. But before they were able to simply go with the flow, they must have suffered through countless bouts of frustration also. Even while they were already holding the magic wand of creativity in their hands, there must have been times when they still could not get it to work.
One learns to write in many ways. One way is to read a lot of good writers and marinate in their different styles, methods, substance and magic. You can emulate them. Or one can simply look for inspiration and be inspired. A nice beach, a beautiful house, a lonely cottage on some mountain, a quiet space to think can help a lot. But there are many other ways. Ask writers and they all have their homemade recipes to entice the muse to free them from writer’s block and inspire them.
Whatever way you choose to do ultimately does not matter. If it works, do it. But accept that the thing that writers do is write. No ifs, and/ or buts about that. And sometimes writers simply must unconditionally do the act of writing. One must show up no matter what shape or form one is in. If the muse shows up as well, then that is well and good. If she does not, then a writer must make do. Whatever and however you write is the state of your art at the moment. Accept that. Don’t compete with what you’ve done before. Sometimes you are great, sometimes just so-so. And sometimes, you may even be bad. Just show up just the same.
But how does one do it without inspiration? How can one write without the nice house, or the muse?
As someone who has written columns, books and songs, I have learned that the switches and levers of creativity are all inside of me. And they are simple to operate, really. Show up unconditionally and do what a writer does. That’s it. It can’t be any simpler. Too many conditions and the creative machine jams and locks.
But I also know that the hardest thing to be in this complicated world is to be simple; so in the end, it is not that simple.
So the task is to work at being simple. But if you must work at it, then it must be somewhat hard, and therefore not easy and as simple as simplicity is supposed to be.
Let me end this by leaving you with just one piece of advice then.
Just shut up and write.