No, this isn’t about indecision, it’s about embracing life with both hands.
So I’m going to pretend for a minute. I’m going to pretend that my writing life is not stuck in its own personal version of Ground Hog Day where I’m locked in an eternal loop of being at “Square 1” with my writing, followed by making some attempt to work at it then, either due to busyness or lack of commitment, falling off the grid. Repeat. Rather than accepting that this is true let’s assume it isn’t. There might be another way to approach this sense dejå vu.
The crux of the problem may be that I claim failure. First I view these chunks of time when I leave my writing alone as quitting, which isn’t necessarily the case. Each pause in my writing is unique. Life circumstances and assorted tasks put obstacles in my path and create a pause in my writing. As a result I feel like a failure as a writer– a quitter, even if I didn’t intentionally quit.
One of the most annoying consequences of these pauses is the awkwardness of returning to writing. Now in reality I pretty much never stop journaling. Yet, for whatever cock-eyed reason, it doesn’t qualify in my mind as writing. Maybe because my journaling is short on direction and form or because it reads too much like stream of conscious ramblings (even more so than what’s in my blog) I don’t feel like it counts as writing. At this point I begin to see my writing identity in past tense, “I used to write.” Eventually when I attempt to re-engage I hit a wall. When I hit this wall I feel like I always do when I resume writing after a break: scared and empty. I know I want to write but I don’t have the faintest clue what. I sigh, “I’m back at Square 1.” That dreaded Square 1; no inspiration, no projects or recent drafts, nada. It’s like looking into a bottomless empty well. Why lower the bucket when you can’t see any water?
But I’m forgetting something. I’m forgetting that even when I am writing regularly I often gaze down at a seemingly empty well. Most writers do. It’s normal. The only difference is that if you have been away from writing for a while you may have forgotten just what normal feels like. You forget the role of discipline, better known as the ‘just show up’ rule. Putting that rule into action, no matter how stiff and belabored the first drafts I crank out are, will put me back on track. No, it isn’t Ground Hog’s Day, it is just a day. Just another day in a writer’s journey. Writing may be a profession, vocation, hobby, or craft, by turn or all at once. Regardless what you call it, it is always a journey. What keeps it from becoming Ground Hog’s Day is simply this: each sentence I write adds more distance to my writing journey. It carries me further on my way. As the pen or computer keys spill forth with thoughts and ideas the writing grows. It helps me to realize that there is no such thing a personal Ground Hog’s Day for writers. It helps me to know that even if I have had a long pause in my writing life and I lack inspiration or vision for going forward, it’s much like any other path. I just need to put one foot in front of the other and continue on the journey. I just need to show up. I just need to write.
Helpful hints for the hobby hunter.
When you read advice for retirees who need a new hobby the old saying, “Follow your passion” frequently surfaces. First I would like to complain about the use of the word passion here. If you actually do possess a passion there’s very little doubt that you are not following it on some level. Passion is too ‘in your face’ to ignore; no one needs to be told to follow it. If you’re not following it, there probably is a good and legitimate reason for your choice, like it would leave you bankrupt, divorced, or an amputee, or you simply can’t justify investing your time in it right now. You folks with passions that you either are or aren’t following, this article is not for you.
This is for the rest of us without passions. This is for all of us who, instead of passions, have sparks of interest. Most of us are more likely to have some interest or spark towards an activity than a passion, and we can very comfortably ignore such things for years, even decades. I find that how I react to what I read, what I hear, what I see, is a key indicator of potential interests. That tiny voice that says, “I could do that” or “I wish I could do that” is worth noting. You read a book or a blog and you come away wanting to do some writing. You go into a coffee shop and hear a folk singer and you want to go home and get your guitar out. Someone tells you about the hiking they did, and all you can think about is how much you miss being in the woods. Start a list of the times you feel drawn to try something.
This sounds obvious but I have found in talking to friends that a lot of us are really bad at paying attention to ourselves, noticing our own reactions. When we are fully employed and spread thin with assorted commitments we become very good at letting these tiny nudges go undetected. Our manager brain overrides the sparks we feel when something interests us. We may briefly notice that it sounds appealing and promptly file it for later (as in much later). Or we undermine the prompt with reality checks, like the equipment for that sport doesn’t fit my budget now and without investigating any practical options, like purchasing used equipment or renting, we’ve effectively squelched the interest.
Sometimes a lack of confidence shuts down the interest by focusing on our lack of talent or ability rather than taking the opportunity to increase our skills. This negative thinking happens so quickly, so stealthily, that before our interest has registered it’s already dead in the water. Does any of this sound familiar?
Too often we don’t know what we would enjoy, partly because a well-managed, practical life hasn’t allowed us to consider the question very often. I have seen all sorts of inventories for helping a person identify interests, values, talents, and they have their place in clarifying one’s sense of self. But nothing beats careful listening. Listen to your heart, when do you feel a spark, or a pull towards an activity? When you hear about other people’s activities do you wish you could do that as well? Even if there’s a good reason why you won’t have that particular experience, make a note of the way it clicked for you. The connection could indicate that a change of scenery and travel makes you feel alive and engaged, or perhaps that you like a physical challenge or the satisfaction of physical activities, or it may be that nature’s beauty brings you contentment and happiness. Pay attention to what grabs your attention and pulls you in and you will find the interests that are well suited for you.