13 March, 2013
Worried that I’ve run out of steam, I reach out to twitter. “What should I write about next?” I ask, hoping the desperation isn’t too obvious in my tone.
I sip on my old fashioned (which is excellent. Seems I’ve found a good supplier at last), stare at the screen, and start typing. I grimace, read it over, grimace some more, clear the screen, and start again.
Some Pink Floyd comes on, and I relax a little. I remember my Pirsig. Breathe. Take another sip from the glass. Damn, this tastes sweet: both the cocktail and the moment.
I look around the bar. It’s modern, and the decor could be soulless, but whomever put together the interior had the good sense to keep the lighting low. You could make an ikea warehouse look tasteful and intimate with the right lighting.
What really saves the place, though, is that the staff seem to know what they’re doing. I’ve talked before about craftsmen at work, and this place has that feel. The guy and girl behind the bar know their shit, and are geeky as hell about it. This isn’t some pretentious place where you come to impress people, it’s somewhere you come because you want a decent old fashioned.
Sitting in the corner, I panic for a moment, the words stopping again, becoming harder to get out of my fingers. I rewrite the sentence two, three times.
Nobody is born being able to ride a bike, but once you learn the skill, you never really forget it. You might be rusty, your legs might ache, but even twenty years later, you’ll get back on the bike and not fall off.
The trick, of course, is to not think about it; it’s only when you try to rationalise it that you fall on your face.
Much of our learning is like this: we learn, it becomes second nature, and we fear that feeling of having to think about things again. Thinking equals falling off.
But having to think—indeed, having to fall off—is an important marker. Thinking, falling off, that’s an indicator that we might be about to do something new. And hell, that’s exciting.
Right now, I’m stuck. I can’t yet see the way through this article, and I need to discover the path from here to there.
The false starts represent a choice: do I stick to what I know, or do I do something new? Three times, I’d chosen what I knew, and three times it didn’t fit. Writing regularly has quickly shown me that I have fallen into a consistent way of telling stories, and already it’s starting to bore me. A consistent voice is great, but I want to expand how I write, not just regurgitate the same boring old tripe over and over again.
I used to be quite good at this, and now I feel like a broken record.
But here’s the thing. Being stuck is precisely where you want to get to in any creative activity, be it painting or writing, or programming or running a business. Being stuck means you’ve run out of things you know. It means that you don’t have any tools left to solve the problem in front of you, and it’s only then that one of two things can happen: you can learn, or you can invent.
Hunter S. Thomson had no strategy when he gave birth to pure Gonzo journalism. He had a deadline and he was stuck.
I’m no Hunter, but I am stuck, still looking for a way through. I haven’t solved this problem yet, but so long as I’m stuck, I’ve got a reason to write.
I’m going to enjoy that for a moment: enjoy the stuckiness, and order myself another old fashioned.