Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Beating Writers Block or Don't Trade Your Passion For Glory

He asked, "What makes a man a writer?" "Well," I said, "it's simple.  
You either get it down on paper, or jump off a bridge."
-Charles Bukowski
The New River Gorge Bride
in case you were looking for one to jump off

I have taken a break from this space for long enough.  It's not that I haven't thought of writing (and written!) in the last six weeks.  In fact, writing is the main tenant occupying my mind these days.  I just haven't mustered up the will to sit down and post something.  Instead I took a six week River Writing course from Nan Seymour (highly recommend), read some wondrously satisfying books (Blue Jelly, Wild Mind, Ruby to name a few), discovered the creative genius of Sy Safransky through his magazine The Sun, adventured through West Virginia, Virginia, and Utah, and had many soul stimulating conversations about writing and the creative life.  But sitting down and writing something that feels post-worthy, well, let's just say it's been a struggle.  I have essays, short stories, and perhaps a worthwhile novel in my head, but as long as I avoid sitting down and putting pen to paper, that's where they'll stay. 

I loved this post from Molly Wizenberg about procrastination.  Apparently it happens to the best of us. Yesterday my cousin Tom was in town from New York City.  He studied writing in college and is currently working on a screenplay.  As we hiked the trails in Millcreek Canyon, I told him how fired up I am about writing and then mentioned that I am not actually writing. He said simply, "well, it's work.  You have to show up.  You have to put in the time."  I could hear Nan's voice in my head inviting us to sit down and write really poorly, to be the most ordinary writer in the room.  

For the first time it dawned on me that the practice of writing is exactly like my other deeply held passion-cycling.  If you pick up cycling expecting greatness, there is no doubt you will be disappointed.  There is nothing noble about riding a bike.  It’s a lot of hard work.  It takes thousands of miles of effort to reach the effortless moments where you feel like you’re flying.  In other words, don’t trade your passion for glory.  You won’t get much.  Jock Boyer, the first American to ride in the Tour de France has often said that to ride a bike is to suffer.  Writing is the same.  It takes thousands of pages of shitty writing to distill a single nugget of wisdom.  It takes a commitment to experience every facet of your life from the mundane to the beautiful to the heart-wrenchingly painful.  Write anyway.

We write to discover what we didn’t know we knew.  We ride to discover frontiers beyond our everyday.  The acts themselves are a demonstration of faith in what we don’t know.  In the words of Slug, having to look for the path is a good problem to have.  Keep riding.

Writing well and riding well are both acts of grace.  Glory comes and goes.  Triumph is just a reminder that we were gifted momentary possession of a genius that never belonged to us in the first place.

The majority of training in both writing and riding is done alone.  That’s just the nature of the beast.  No one can do your work for you.  At the same time, community becomes necessary if you want to make real progress.  Riding with other people makes you faster.  Reading, writing, and listening with other thinkers adds richness to your words.  That is why so many great writers quote other people.

I could go on.  I could tell you how cycling and writing are pathways to paying attention to and connecting with a reality deeper and broader than the narrow, egoic ones we so often inhabit.  I could explain how sports and creative pursuits are both physical expressions of the human spirit.  I could tell you that commitment pays off, especially when you think it never will.  I can tell you this because despite there being an infinite number passions to choose from, Passion is always the same.  It is a driving commitment to a practice for the sake of practicing.  And it is worth it, always.  It’s good to be back.