Tag Archives: not knowing what to write about

I’ve got nothing

I’m constantly trying to cultivate this habit, that whenever I have an idea for something to write about, for this blog, for something else, whatever, that I’ll immediately write it down so that I don’t forget about it. But I’m not there yet. I’m only doing it like twenty-five percent of the time.

Sometimes it’s a logistical thing. Like I’ll be riding my bike on my way to work and something will pop in my head, and I’ll think, OK, I better write this down as soon as I get off my bike. But even that’s too much. It’s more than likely that, even if I’m only five minutes away from my destination, I’ll get distracted during those five minutes, my mind will wander, and my idea for whatever it was that I was thinking about, it’ll be gone.

Maybe I’ll be out for a long run. It’s whenever I’m out there, using my body in a repetitive action. It’s like after I’m physically engaged my mind is free to wander in a way that’s impossible to do while I’m standing still. But it’s not like I leave the house with a pen and paper.

A few times, usually when I come up with something that really captures my imagination, I’ll get worried that, just by the nature of where this idea was born, that it’s already doomed to be forgotten. Like in the middle of a long run. So I’ll start repeating it over and over in my head, trying to keep it fresh in my consciousness, so that I’ll be able to come home, head right to the computer and write down what I’ve been mulling over.

But a lot of the time it’s like a game of telephone. It’s just the nature of our brains, I guess, that it’s really hard to control our thoughts, to take an idea and to hold it down long enough to make it something that you can then shape and cultivate. The few times that I’ve successfully held an idea in my head, say for half an hour, I’ll come back and write it all up, but there’s that part of me that’s thinking, something’s different here. Something’s changed in between the instance of inspiration and the moment where I’m able to try and hash it out.

It’s the same process even if I’m out somewhere and I have the foresight to write down a good idea. How do I capture a whole idea in just a few words? Often times I’ll look at my notes later in the day and I’ll be like, what was I getting at here? What was it that inspired me to write this note in the first place?

The inspiration for this piece is my frustration of having lost too many good ideas. I’ll be nodding off to sleep at the end of the day and two or three sentences might jump out in my mind. My brain automatically starts piecing together a story or a joke or something, I won’t really be able to tell where it’ll all head until I sit down at the computer and start typing. But then I’ll fall asleep. I’ll wake up the next morning and I’ll have the residual feeling of having had a good idea, but now all I’m doing is drinking coffee and writing something about not knowing what to write about.

I’ve never been sailing, but it’s how I would describe what it feels like to sit at my computer and write. I’m out there in a boat on some body of water. I’ve got the sail up and I’m hoping to catch some wind. Where is it going to take me? Once I’ve got a nice gust, can I steer it to take me in a different direction?

I don’t know. I’ve got to practice. I guess I’ve got to be willing to sit in that boat even if I don’t feel any wind. I’ve got to write bullshit pieces like this every now and then about not knowing what I’m doing or not having anything to write about. But look at this, I’m done. Here I am. Is it my best piece? No way. But I’m somewhere. It’s definitely satisfying to imagine how much worse I’d feel if I hadn’t written anything at all.

My words of wisdom

I periodically give myself these pep talks. I do it in writing. I’ll get on the computer, open up a new Word document, and I’ll start typing, like, “You can do it Rob, you’ve got what it takes,” type of nonsense. Most of the time it doesn’t do anything. Usually it’s more of a physical exercise, a warm up for my fingers. Once I really get going, well then I’m going. I just use the whole motivational approach to at least try and get myself to say something positive, even if I’m totally faking it.

But once in a while, amidst all of the cliché phrases and platitudes that I’ll be mechanically typing out to myself like a crazy person, something will click, like maybe I’ll look at one of those cliché phrases from a slightly different perspective, and while I didn’t really expect anything to come out of it, I’ll feel slightly motivated. I’ll also be really impressed, by my apparent ability to just come up with amateur philosophy out of nowhere.

But then there’s the opposite also. The other day I was trying to pump myself up, I was telling myself, “Rob, listen, the hardest part is just getting started. Once you get going, you’re good.” And I was going with it. It made me feel good. It made me think that, maybe I’m a lot better than I give myself credit for. Maybe it’s just a matter of getting off the Internet, getting away from any distractions, stop reading the newspaper, stop trying to play and sing The Darkness songs on my guitar. It’s not happening.

And so there was some motivational magic in there somewhere. Every time I found myself with four hours to write, four hours might turn into three hours without a word written, without having pried myself successfully away from the Internet. And I’d say to myself, “Rob, remember, just get started, just go for it.” And it would work. Instead of wasting another two hours before maniacally trying to get everything done during those last sixty seconds, I’d start typing.

But after a while the magic wears off. You say the same thing over and over again, you stop thinking about what the words actually mean, you stop finding those new perspectives that provided that change in attitude, and then you’re just wasting huge amounts of time on the Internet again.

Then the other day I was back at the motivational exercises again, I was trying unsuccessfully to get myself going, to inspire myself, something. But, and this is often the case too, if I’m not in the greatest mood, I might start out saying like, “You can do it!” but my bad attitude laced consciousness will hijack control of my fingers, and I’ll start writing everything negative, how this isn’t working out and how that isn’t coming together.

Luckily this only lasted for like a couple of paragraphs or so. I caught myself. I thought, what, I’m just going to sit here and complain about myself, to myself? And so I pushed the positive thinking again, I pushed some bullshit positive phrases out. And somehow my fingers started typing up something along the lines of, “Look Rob, it’s easy to start something. It’s really simple to just begin a project. The hard part is finishing them up. The difficult part is the successful execution of an entire plan before moving on to the next.”

And for some reason this really resonated with me. I thought, yeah, that’s it, I’ve just got to go back and tie up all the loose ends, finish up the last paragraphs on all of these blog posts that I always just start writing up without ever ending. And then from here on out, I’ll make sure that I go all the way with my ideas, try not to let myself get distracted with a new idea before an old idea is complete.

And it was the same way. This provided me with a couple weeks worth of inspiration, motivation, whatever you want to call it, positive energy. I was moving. And it was all thanks to me kind of dwelling on these words of the pseudo wisdom that I cooked up.

But as those words are starting to wear off, and I’m finding myself just back to the abscesses of my mind, thinking about where I’m going to turn next, I realized the inherent contradiction in all of this, about how I got so excited thinking that all I needed to do was to get started and then getting equally pumped up thinking about how all I needed to do was to finish everything up. So now I just feel kind of like, huh, all I need to remember is that the hard part is starting, and also, that the hard part is finishing. I have to start and I also have to finish. That doesn’t sound like advice at all. Definitely nothing close to philosophy. What kind of games am I playing with myself here? Should I really be writing to myself in the third person every day? Isn’t this all a little crazy?