Eight o’clock, and I still can’t write this blog post. What the hell was I thinking?
I’m so stupid. This is the big one, the one that’ll kick off Lit Adj’s relaunch. Relaunch it into the ground, I guess. Okay, you know what, just write from your heart. Yeah right! Real writers do that, real bloggers too, and I’m neither.
It’s impossible, just impossible.
Dang it, nine o’clock. Okay okay. I can do this. Think of what Gaiman might do. But he’s so good! All the greats had no trouble. I mean, I know they did have trouble, but they’re still in better shape than me.
I suck. Shit, ten o’clock. Got to be perfect, got to! Argh! Almost lunch now. Why did I think this was a good idea? Well there goes the morning. Now I got no time to even write my name. It’s hopeless.
There’s always tomorrow.
That’s me, in all of my glory.
And this is you, too. I know you, you’re just like me. Because we’re all like this. And I’m here to tell you, it’s not you, it’s your brain. Your brain is making up excuses, making you nervous and terrified, making you feel worthless and stupid. It’s making you take all-or-nothing mindsets, it’s making you think the whole world is waiting to judge your work in the harshest terms. And worse, your brain is doing all this not because it hates you, but because it loves you. Your brain will do anything and everything it can to help you or even save you from dying.
“Every writer I know has trouble writing.” — Joseph Heller
Sit back and listen to a story.
Way, way, waaaay back in the day, before stuff and things and Throwback Thursdays and Taco Bell, we used to live in caves without Taco Bell (I’m writing this before lunch). And life sucked, it really did. Take your worst day, and dump on a bunch of terror and anxiety, being cold and hungry and exhausted all the time running away from saber-toothed tigers, bears, angry pigs, and other clans of cave people.
During this process, we learned what worked and what didn’t. Our human brains recognized patterns, and so, on our daily hike for food, we became alert around to us to what we wanted to eat and what could eat us. And our brains took the hint and hit repeat—same-old same-old = good, and new and exciting and different = bad. So leaving the cave to venture off on your own meant you could literally never return (and you’d lose your dirt bed by the fire). For safety’s sake, we clustered into groups and then tribes (‘Misery loves company’ is a very old saying for us). Of course any kind of freedom within the tribe was limited as well. Better to go off with a group for food and water, but anything other than that, why bother? “Hey I can’t run fast, and there’s this awesome fire to look at.” So doing your own thing not only meant could you get killed, but it also meant you could endanger the group as well. The group’s elders and leaders wouldn’t stand for this, so they’d use expulsion out of the group or shame within in the group in order to police people. (Side note: having read all that, do you really think we’ve evolved so much at all? With social media soaking into more and more of our consciousness, is it any wonder that more of us are becoming depressed or worse falling prey to more and more fear? It shows you how fear can be so easy to fall prey to and how animal our instincts and brains really still are).
So same-old same-old worked because it was all about survival for everyone back then. As we evolved and got better and better lives (#YOLOCaveLife; #EvolvingFastAsHell), the need to create and expand was more appealing but as long as it wasn’t anything crazy that would disrupt the tribe. And those that did? Expulsion, ridicule, and death. Pick any man or woman throughout history who changed anything about how we live, think, create, or feel you’ll see individuals bucking against ‘the system’ and especially ‘The Man’. But there is no tribe or group or Man, there are just lots and lots of brains. Our brains are the cause of it.
Flash to today, and every time you move to raise our hand at a meeting, you stop yourself. You hesitate, then bite your nails, shrug, and check your phone. Coincidence? From hundreds of thousands of years of doing the same thing, same-old same-old wins out every time. It feels right because it’s never going to feel right to do something new and bold and different. Our brains were conditioned to protect us, and damnit, they’re going to protect us. And every time we learn to bypass it, it creates something else, a new trick up its sleeve. For the most part, this is good. Brain functions (along with our animal instincts, as Malcolm Gladwell talks about in his book Blink) keep us out of danger. Spooky dark street at night? Nope, I’ll take a cab home. Some dude at the bar rubbing his hands slow and staring at you laughing? Yeah, I’ll have my tab please.
But what does this have to do with writing? Silly, solemn, creative-playtime writing? I write about other people having problems. Surely my brain wouldn’t make me afraid of that.
Well, you see…
Anything you think is important, that fulfills you in a way that nothing else does, is going against that cave brain because, metaphorically, it’s exactly as if you were walking down a dark street. Even if it’s something as small as writing a poem, that little act has the seed of destruction, according to your brain. First poems, it whispers. Then publication and fame and fortune. Then drug dealers or maybe just every single person either loathing you or trying to be better than you. Because they are better than you. Everyone is.
Tough love, and the brain is the toughest.
It’s so hard to start and it’s doubly hard to keep going. At anything. Better eating habits, being less judgmental, being more patience, being more compassionate, etc. It’s really hard to do because our brains just don’t want to do it. And here’s another thing: the more important it is to you, the harder it’s going to be. Write that poem and leave it under your bed? Meh. Give it to your friends to read? Okay, that’s kind of a weird feeling. Give it to some strangers in a critique group? Okay, freaking out now. Publish your poem for the whole world to see? F*#k why didn’t I stay in my cave!?
Author and speaker Mel Robbins talks about this in her videos and books. Her technique is so helpful and has helped me immensely. And not just her, but so many more people, in science and sociology, have done so much to educate us on our brains. You don’t have to do a thesis on the human brain in order to educate yourself, but know that there are answers out there, and you need to get to know your brain a little and especially techniques like Mel Robbins’s to help put yourself in the right mind set. Because that’s all you have is your mindset. Because the one organ you need the most to help you become a successful and fulfilling writer is also the same organ that’s trying to keep you from doing that very same thing. How very Gemini!
“Resistance by definition is self-sabotage.” — Steven Pressfield
Resistance keeps you from completing your projects, achieving your goals and dreams, and being happy. He doesn’t talk about the science of it so much, but as something inside of you that is reflected outward. Check out his book. I’ve reviewed it here. It was the first time I came across this idea of how hard writing is but that also it’s not my fault. To say Mr. Pressfield saved my writing life is an understatement and I always return to the book for guidance or a good kick in the pants.
In this day and age of distractions, we must focus.
For my first post on the new-and-improved Literature Adjacent, I wanted to open with something essential, for not only this post going forward but also for you, my literary audience—to employ your mind, to open up to your emotions, to study craft, to react and act, all in the chambers of the complex human brain is one of the most courageous, brave, and difficult things that any human can do.
So drop this idea that it’s supposed to come easy. Drop this idea that it’s supposed to be fun every single day. Read Pressfield’s book and other books and posts and blogs and articles. And realize that what you’re doing is good, so very good, for you, your readers, and the world, and that nothing in this world is easy if it is good.
I make it known to you here and forever: it’s tough but I’m here. You ever need a positive word, I got you. We’re all in this together. What you’re doing is exciting and awesome, and to be better at it, to really want to be the best you can be, you’re going to feel like you shouldn’t be doing it sometimes. You’re going to look around in the ‘real’ world, and see that no one else is doing it or maybe that no one else cares. This is not a fluke. But it’s good for you and you care and that’s what’s important. Your brain doesn’t want you to do anything it’s not used to. Keep in mind, the idea that we can even create anything at all is still new to our cave brains. It was only a hundred thousand years ago that the first cave person decided to mark up the walls with selfies and pics of antelopes pooping. Our natural inclination is to go home, crack open a beer, and meh because that’s what our ape brains tell us to do to keep us out of danger.
Don’t do it.
Make the time. Be strong. Get it done. You got this. And it’ll get easier. Confidence is not something you’re born with, it’s like a muscle. The more you do it, the more confident you’ll become, I promise.
But you have to do the work. As Mary Caroline Richards once said: “Let no one be deluded that a knowledge of the path can substitute for putting one foot in front of the other.” Knowing that your brain is making trouble for you is not going to make all your problems go away, and it doesn’t make anything of this journey you’re on any easier. But it will relieve you of the stress of thinking that you’re not made to write because it’s tough or that it’s not fun every day. When you get stuck, you can get creative. That’s something we’re all good at!
I’ll be here to help, dropping tricks here at Lit Adj to help you achieve and be like a clumsy bank teller—-dropping dimes. You’ll face your blocks and your fears. And then, when you keep stepping past the fear and walk with it and see it for what it is, it changes you. It makes you braver and more self-assured. A new neighborhood seems scary at first, but what happens after two months? You’re almost bored with the images that once made you shudder.
Have a wonderful day!
Get to writing, if only three words over and over—I Am Writing.
Or my personal favorite–Create And Complete.
I’m here for any comments or questions you got.
Or just press Like to let me know you dug it.