When Knowledge Strikes

I’ve only got one reason to be excited today, but it’s a good one.

At 14:00 today I rolled out of bed, head aching, and remorsefully canceled a date with my friend. She’s a musician and we were going to discuss the terms of working together as copywriter and artist. I was too groggy, though, having slept so little and too late in the night. However, talking to her reminded me of a deal we made about writing an artist description, so I opened a document I’d written earlier about her artistic values and ambitions.

We made the deal a week ago, or aybe even more than a week ago. I don’t remember, because I’ve been avoiding it.

My friend was hesitant to accept when I offered to write for her. She hates that aspect of the business, and doesn’t get how anyone could enjoy it. I assured her I do, though. “It’s fun for me,” I said. “I like this kind of stuff.”

And, y’know, I meant it at the time. I’d mean it if I said it now. But between then and now, all I felt was dread at the thought of even starting this make-or-break task. Make-or-break for her, that is, since an artist description can either get your music featured or thrown in the trashcan. This fact made it all seem even more monumental.

So, back to why I went to woke up at 2: I was up all night watching an online writing course. It got into narrative, paragraphs, sentences and words, and I devoured it all with a fierceness I’ve been missing in myself lately. When I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore, I unwillingly gave up and went to sleep.

And here we are. When I woke up, I was excited to start the day because I’d get to write. I have no idea how that course could inspire such a huge change in my attitude, but it did. I got up, and talking to my friend reminded me that I need to write her that damn description.

And then I just started.

Not that that course swooped in and cleaned out all my fears and misconceptions of writing for good. I highly doubt that. But something about the clear explanations and demonstrations in that course just boosted my self-esteem by 10 000. I’ve honestly never experienced such a quick change in outlook, and it made an already groggy day so much better.

It made me believe that some day, the writing I create and the image I have of good writing will match.

I’ll make sure of it.

(The writing course I bought is called Ninja Writing: The Four Levels of Writing and is on sale on Udemy now. Click to see it.)

When Your Writing Mind Goes Blank

Heh. I’ve just spent a couple of frenzied hours scouring the web for video writing courses. I quickly found and bought a class on polishing your writing, and I watched half the course before I realised I wasn’t looking for knowledge on craftsmanship – I was looking for something to get the words OUT.

I resumed the search for courses and found one that seemed promising. Instead of going into the mechanics of writing, it covered the anxieties that writers face. Y’know, ‘How much should I reveal of myself?’, ‘How do I overcome the crippling self-doubt?’, and so on. Still, I wanted to be careful with spending more money, so I found a way to phrase my problem and googled it instead. A Quora page named ‘Why does my mind go blank when I’m about to write?’ caught my interest, and I read some of the answers.

Now I’m writing.

I’ve done this a lot over the years: I’ve felt the need to write URGENTLY, been paralysed by the thought that I have no ideas, and started hunting for something that’ll drag something – whatever – out of my head. It’s like I just stopped knowing my own mind. Of course I know my interests, but when I want to write about them my mind just goes blank.

It scares me how willing I was to throw money at whatever seemed helpful just now, when the answer was free and took me moments to find. It reveals just how horrifying I find it when my mind goes blank. When I want to write, but can’t. Or think I can’t.

So what was the answer that allowed me to finally write tonight? It was this:

If you are of the first type (like me), it typically helps to have a mood, style, image or even a fragment of language swirling through your mind as you sit to write. It could be from a novel you are just reading, something you just witnessed, a piece of music you heard, a movie you saw or even a deep emotional spike you just had (anger, fear, laughter, frustration, etc). These typically evoke responses that are usually framed by the ‘feel’ (for lack of a better word) and sets the mood for what you write. I always rely on music to drive the feel of what I write. There are numerous other hacks too. For example, you could pick the first word you come across at random and begin to construct a sentence in the broad framework of what you are looking to write. The first few words don’t matter except they serve as the base from which you either build on naturally or decide to throw it away and retype different ‘first few words’.

Yep. I keep coming back to this idea of using a tiny fragment to work with. Every time I’m reminded of this technique, I get writing. It’s like my rigid ideas about structure and story planning and sentence structuring and captivating the audience and BLAH BLAH just melts away. Holy crap, does it feel good. I need to put that quote on a post-it and hang it on the fridge.

I can’t believe I almost spent 40 dollars on help I found for free on Google, guys.

Moral of the story: Don’t panic. Get back to basics. Start with the very first building block.

Don’t spend 40 dollars on writing courses until you’ve calmed down.

(See the whole thread on writer’s block here.)

I’m Back

Phew, it’s been a while since I dared to check in here.

I’m still struggling with writing. Even my journaling has slowly petered off and ground to a halt. Amazingly, though, I feel better than I have in years. A lot has happened since I started this blog – I’ve been sober for over half a year, met a lot of new people, lost my job, started looking for a new job, moved to the other side of the city with my boyfriend, and most importantly, in my opinion: I’ve become just a little more courageous.

I recently met a guy in his forties who works freelance as a copywriter. He asked if I’m writing these days, and having lost both my writing job and my spark, I said no. So he advised me to write three or four sentences a day – no more, no less. I said I’d try and then get back to him.

Guess how that went.

But still, I’m feeling good. Still I’m feeling happy and on the right path. Because while all my attempts at writing regularly fail so hard they should award me with some prize, I’m finally – finally – coming to love the idea of going with the flow. I don’t need to write 2000 words a day at this stage. My biggest task is to challenge the multitude of fears I struggle with every day, and that’s completely fine. At this point in my life writing should just be a fun outlet. I don’t know why I didn’t figure it out sooner.

That’s why I’m writing here. I just wanted to. I want to. I feel like writing a hundred blog posts tonight. It feels fun again, and that means so much more to me than “having written”.

Good evening from Norway, guys. I hope you’re all well.

Discomfort is a Good Thing

[Note: This is the first publishable thing I’ve written in a month or so. That’s why I hope you’ll forgive that it’s got nothing to do with writing at all. Well, directly. The main point is applicable to writing, too.]

The other day my boyfriend said something to me while we were walking around town. He said, ”Well, in any case, being out of breath is always a good thing.” It was such an innocuous comment; I didn’t think much of it in the moment. I don’t even remember what we were talking about.

In the following days, that little comment started coming back to me. I’d be walking to the store after work, for instance, and notice I was slightly short of breath. Now, you should know I don’t do any cardio at all. I hardly move at all except for when I have to, to be completely honest. It’s a bad habit that I’m just beginning to notice has been with me for a long time.

I particularly notice because I can hardly change the bed sheets without working up a slight pulse. Any little activity makes me breathe faster. And walking up steep hills? It makes me huff and puff no matter how short the distance.

I’m in bad condition, and I’m becoming increasingly miserable about it. Losing my breath over the easiest of tasks has just served as a depressing reminder of how bad it’s gotten.

Until my boyfriend said what he said, and something in me finally clicked.

Being short of breath just means I’m pushing my body. I never thought of it that way. In my mind, shortness of breath reminded me of how hard shaping up would be. I never once considered that my discomfort not only shows me my limits, it pushes them. It’s pushing them every single time I feel it. What is that if not a good thing?

Since then I’ve begun to appreciate not just physical discomfort, but any kind of discomfort. I’m a creature of habit and will avoid changes not because I’m afraid of change in itself, but because I know that what’s tried and tested is already comfortable. Why risk discomfort for the sake of trying something new? I kid you not when I say that any little change, like shopping in a new grocery store or trying a new recipe, will linger in me for the rest of the day. But it will usually linger in a good way. That’s why I decided to risk the discomfort. Make a little gamble. Mix it up, if only by discovering a new café in town.

When you’ve created a tiny little world for yourself where you do the same things in the same way every day, you eventually start to become subconsciously afraid of doing things differently. At least that’s what happened to me. I never saw just how tiny my world has become. I’ll make the big changes when I need to, but my day-to-day life basically looks the same. Sticking to the known provides the same kind of safety you get from walling in your house ­– inside feels safe, while the outside begins to feel scary. Outside is unknown. It seems like anything could lurk out in the streets so long as you never see them.

That’s why discomfort is a great thing. A fire alarm will beep only when there’s a fire. It won’t tell you that you need to do some cardio, or that you don’t like being catcalled, or that you hate writing essays. Discomfort is like your body’s own alarm tailored to show exactly what is wrong. It’s an alarm telling you what you might need to change. That’s a frickin’ awesome tool we could all probably stand to use more.

So, being short of breath is always a good thing. So is all the other shitty feelings your body throws at you.

They’re tools. Work with them.

Forget Your Writing Plans… Sometimes

Recently I made a list of blog posts I could write for an unnamed, so far non-existent blog. Just a project I’m playing with in my head for now. But I needed to make a goal for myself so the whole thing doesn’t just fade into oblivion after a week or two.

The goal was to write ten blog posts in two weeks. That’s attainable. That way I’ll figure out if I can write enough about the chosen topics for the blog, and whether I’ll find it inspiring to write about.

I made the list a couple of days ago. Today I sat down to get started on the first post, browsing the list for the most appealing idea. Nothing stood out. I’d been excited about them when I wrote them down, but today, nothing.

I sat there, staring at my laptop. Something had to pop out if I just read the list enough times.

Nope. Nada. I didn’t want to write about any of those things today.

A little bummed, I began wondering if this blog was really going to happen after all. What if I can’t keep up my enthusiasm for an idea for more than a day or two?

Then I perked up at a sudden thought:

Wait, what do I want to write about? It doesn’t have to be those topics!

I was so locked into the idea of writing about these specific ideas that I forgot that I could write about anything else. Of course there are other things I want to write about. Something is always happening specific to this day or moment that I care more about than pre-made ideas. How did I forget that?

That’s exactly how this post came into being. Right now, this was more relevant to my experience than anything else. And that’s fine. It’s okay to not always know beforehand what you want to say. It’s okay to discover something new while you’re waiting for other words to come.

I’m a notorious planner and worrier, always on the lookout for ways to organise things even better. I always want to know what I’m going to do and how I’m going to do it. That doesn’t necessarily tie in well with the spontaneous, impulsive exercise writing sometimes has to be.

Sometimes you need to let go of control to let yourself say what’s most authentic to you in this moment.

Having to let go and write something unplanned made me fear that I won’t attain my writing goals. As I said, I’m a worrier. But I choose to look at it this way:

You can’t always control what it is you need to write. Sometimes it’ll break with your plans and goals. But: The overarching plan is always to write. So do that. Let that be okay. The will to write what you planned will come, and if it doesn’t, maybe you need to adjust your plans. Tweak the angles, choose a new topic, break it into smaller steps. Or motivate yourself and find the inspiration you need.

But for now, just be happy that the words are coming. Even thought they’re not the words you planned.

Who Are You Writing For?

When I have an idea for a blog topic, I often don’t know what to say about it. Take drinking, for instance. I recently quit drinking. It was a huge lifestyle change for me, yet I haven’t written anything about it even though there must be oodles of people out there who’d be interested in reading about that particular subject.

I was just trying to find an angle for that subject, thinking: “But I don’t know what to say about it. Where do I start?”. Then a thought struck me. Who would I be writing for?

I’d be writing for people with related experiences, of course. People who have had or are having problems with alcohol. People who want to quit drinking, are quitting drinking or have quit drinking. And what would they want to know about? Probably people’s reactions to my change, whether the process was difficult and what made it so, why I made the decision to quit, and good and bad things that have come out of it. I can think of more – it’s a ripe subject.

That thought, who I’d be writing for, made it a lot easier to visualise how I’d write about quitting drinking.

It’s kind of what I do at work already. My day job is copywriting at a web design firm. When clients need copy for their websites, I write it. To do that I envision myself as a potential customer, trying to address every worry and question they might have. If I’m writing for a cleaning firm, for instance, the customer will want to know in which area they’re located, in which price range they’re placed, which certifications they have, whether they show up on time, how thorough they are, and so on.

You can do basically the same when writing a blog post. Of course you’re not writing for potential customers looking to buy something, but you’re still trying to persuade them to read your writing. That means they need to feel understood, much like potential customers thinking about prices and professionalism do when they’re searching for a cleaning firm.

Of course, writing should be fun. You shouldn’t write a blog post purely with your readers in mind unless that makes it fun for you. But when you think you have nothing to say or don’t know what to say about a subject, putting yourself in the shoes of your intended audience can help you find a suitable angle from which to write.

Just think of what they’d want to know.

But Alright

Tonight I’m anxious.

But I’m happy too, in a really weird way. Like I’m safe in the knowledge that I haven’t made things worse for myself, and I’m not going to. I’m not escaping from my feelings. Just letting them be as long as they need to, and I’ll manage whatever happens.

It often takes me a while to realise that the indescribable sensation in my body is actually anxiety. When I do, I instantly feel calmer. When I know, when I’ve given it a name, I don’t even fear the anxiety attack that might come. Because it won’t kill me, and it won’t change my life. It’ll just be horrendously uncomfortable for an hour or two.

Before I realise it, though… I feel slightly crazy. Out of time, out of the world. Like I don’t belong in life, because life shouldn’t feel so insane, it shouldn’t feel so chaotic and messy. There’s too many thoughts and too few guidelines for what to do with them. I don’t know what to do with the thoughts or with myself. So I just wander restlessly around the apartment, looking for a way to make my mind sit down. It always feels like my mind needs to rest, but I find no ways of making it relax.

Mostly I just write. It doesn’t feel good, but it’s the only way I get to feel slightly in control of what’s happening to me. Oddly I tend to get stuck on my ambitions about blogging, writing out the many worries and problems I have with it, all the while feeling like something is trapped and trying to seep through my body.

Anxiety really is an unpleasant experience. But it’s not the end of the world. Books taught me that, and experience. Having lived with anxiety for so many years now, I hardly react to it anymore. At least not compared to how mind-bendingly shit scared I was of it when I was younger. Several times I thought I was going insane.

It feels good to write about it now, though. Just to throw out there that there is a place where you can feel almost comfortable with anxiety. I haven’t eaten much today, nor showered or really done any of the many things I felt I should do, but that’s okay. I’m home alone, it’s night and I’ll be making myself something shortly.

I’m anxious, but I’m alright.