3 Paradigm Shifts to Help Make Your Writing Meaningful

“Ollin, I love writing. But with all that is going on in the world right now, I’m starting to ask myself: ‘What’s the point?’ Let’s face it, did writing a story save a life or stop an earthquake? I’m struggling with this. Can you help me deal with this issue so I can get back to writing today?”

This is the message I am hearing from my readers these days.

Now, if you were to go over to another blog they might say:

“Woah, my friend. This doesn’t fit into my niche. Sorry. My blog is only about how to build your business. Maybe you should go talk to a priest? Good luck, see ya.”

Which would tell you a little bit about how we’ve stuck ourselves into compartmentalizing humanity. We’ve cut up ourselves into halves and pieces. You get your financial advice at this blog, your spiritual advice over here, your fitness advice over there, but you don’t get it all at once place, and you don’t get it all at one time, and you’re often indirectly, or directly, told that none of those pieces have anything to do with each other.

So another blog might say: “I can’t address your current existential crisis because that has nothing to do with your writing. Sorry. Go somewhere else.”

But you know that this isn’t the case. Because all of today’s bad news is making you feel less and less like your writing means anything in the grand scheme of things. Which in the end makes you stop writing. And in that way your existential crisis has EVERYTHING  to do with your writing.

Not long ago, I wrote a post about how writing is incredibly useful, and I noticed that my readers were asking questions that didn’t have to do with the “usefulness of writing.” My readers were actually asking me to respond to a deeper question. They were asking me not about the usefulness of their writing, but about the meaningfulness of their writing.

Now, before I go on, you need to know that there’s a big difference between the two. 

For example, your shoes are useful because they protect your feet from getting cut and infected. That’s usefulness. But you can hardly say that those same shoes are meaningful. So, although I successfully proved that writing was a useful endeavor, a couple of the people reading that post on usefulness had already gone beyond “use” and had moved over to “meaning.”

They wanted writing to be more than just “useful” they wanted it to be “meaningful.”

If you’re just beginning to write, you may not see why some writers would need their writing to be meaningful. Because when you begin to write, writing for yourself and for the love of writing is enough to get you through it all. But at a certain point–it may come after your first draft, or maybe after your first published book–you’ll realize that you want your writing to be more than just useful. You want it to mean something. And just writing this book for you and you alone isn’t cutting it. It’s not enough motivation to keep you writing. And any tips or tricks that got you motivated before are just not gonna cut it anymore. The problem is now bigger than tips or tricks. The problem now encompasses an issue far bigger than one I can adequately address or answer here, but I’m still going to try.

So, if you can’t write because you feel like your writing lacks meaning, then I suggest you try on these three paradigm shifts:

1. Your Mind Can’t Solve All Your Writing Problems.

It can’t. I hate to break it to you.

You see, your mind can solve about 25% of your problems, but its convinced itself that it can solve 100% of them. Its stubborn that way. If you don’t employ–what I call–the intelligence of your spirit, or the intelligence of your heart, or the intelligence of your body on a daily basis then you’re going to run into a crisis. It’s inevitable. Your mind will go on overload. It will see everything that is happening in the world and it will shut down. It will ask you to go into the corner, get into a fetal position, and despair. Why? Because your mind can’t solve all the problems in the world today. It’s too much to solve. In essence, your mind will crash, just like a computer. And when your mind crashes, good luck trying to write your novel today. Because you won’t be able to.

If you’re searching for meaning, your mind won’t get you there. Your mind wants charts and graphs and numbers. But numbers don’t have any meaning. Numbers are useful, yes, but they lack meaning. So you’re going to have to do a couple of things:

You’ll need to go for a jog, you’ll need to meditate (or learn how to meditate), and you’ll need to talk to a good friend. This will be the beginning of your more well-rounded approach to writing. Start there and don’t stop. Go deeper. Start to acquire more financial skill, more spiritual skill, more emotional skill and all the other kinds of skills that they never taught you in high school.

What are you waiting for? Books have never been cheaper and easier to get, and resources on the internet have never been so easily at your finger tips. There’s no stopping your journey towards addressing every single part of you, and instilling more meaning into your writing.

2. The Fleeting-ness of Life is What Makes Your Writing Meaningful.

If you never died, your life would have no meaning. It wouldn’t. You’d be like a plastic bag. Useful, but not meaningful. Why? Because a plastic bag is not fleeting. It’s always there. You see plastic bags around wherever you go. Let’s feel grateful that you are not a plastic bag. You’re incredibly sacred. In fact, one could say you’re as sacred as tree in the forest, or a rose, or a whale, or a honeybee. You are sacred and meaningful because you don’t last long.

It’s the same with your writing. Your writing carries weight because it won’t be around forever. That’s what makes it meaningful.

If you have never lost a loved one, this paradigm shift might not be so clear to you. But as someone who has lost a loved one, I can tell you that suddenly every moment you had with that person is so much more meaningful in retrospect. That is a gift. Now, I’m not saying death is wonderful, because it isn’t. Don’t get me wrong. It’s incredibly painful and sad. But for those who have lost someone close, I’m not sure if they would give away the new depth of meaning that that experience has given them.

So if you feel like things are “coming to an end” all around you, this should not make you think that you writing is meaningless. It should remind you that your writing is incredibly meaningful because it won’t be around forever.

3. It’s NOT About You.

I don’t mean to say that you should completely ignore your needs. No. What I am saying is that once you have passed that necessary phase of learning how to properly take care of yourself, you can’t stay there.

This is why at a certain point writers may feel like their writing lacks meaning. Because at some point, writing just for ourselves is not enough. Writing just for the love of writing is not enough. Even the usefulness of our writing is just not enough. We need MEANING.

And meaning can only come when we realize our writing isn’t ours.

Because if you think that your writing is just about you, at some point you may find yourself putting down your manuscript–not because you’re afraid, or angry, or disappointed. Worse. You will put down your manuscript and stop writing because YOU WILL BE SATISFIED. Yup. You’ll say:

“Well, I wrote this book just for me, and I did it for the love of writing so now that I got it all out on paper, I’m happy! I can go on to something else!”

Trust me. It can happen. Others will say that only negative emotions can get in the way of your writing, but I have found that this isn’t true. Satisfaction, contentment, comfort, and joyful distraction can all get in the way of your writing just as much as fear can.

So if you want to instill meaning into your writing, you’ll have to realize that your writing isn’t just yours. It’s ours. And everybody else’s.

That’s right:  your writing is an essential part of this community we call humanity.

You need to get back to work so that when your book is done, and we have to face yet another challenge in the near future, we won’t despair as much, because your book will be there to help us get through it. Whether your book will help us think, or help us escape, or help us laugh, or drive us to action–it doesn’t matter. It’s all just as meaningful.

If you stop writing today because you think its meaningless, don’t be so full of yourself to think that you’re just giving up on yourself. Because the truth is, you’re giving up on all of us.

And, believe it or not, we need you.

much love,

Ollin

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35 comments on “3 Paradigm Shifts to Help Make Your Writing Meaningful

  1. Conor Ebbs says:

    Hey Ollin,

    Bravo. A great call to pens! I agree with you. Once we finish a piece, it no longer belongs to us. It’s a public good.

    I just finished a released my first collection of poems. They are no longer mine, so I have to start the next one. It’s never about us. True devotion to any craft yields work that outlives you, that leaps into the imaginations of your readers. Timeless. Priceless. And full of meaning.

    You are creating these works. Thank you.

    Conor

    • Ollin says:

      Thanks Conor. I just received your collection of poems. How nice of you to share! Make sure to drop by next wednesday. I’m having a poet as a guest post who will be talking about poetry. I’m sure she’d love it to hear input from another poet.

      Good luck to you!

  2. M. Howalt says:

    Great post!🙂
    I’m with you. Put simply: Writing can save two kinds of people: Writers and readers. Sometimes even literally save their lives.

  3. Victoria says:

    OK Ollin: You really hooked me on this post! This is an issue I’ve wrangled with on and off for most of my precious life. And I love how you make a distinction between writing’s usefulness and its meaning. Thank you for giving hope in a time of despair. Thank you for giving encouragement when many of us creative types can easily feel discouraged. Thank you for your generous compassion and wise insights.

    • Ollin says:

      You’re welcome Victoria. Just promise me one thing: you don’t stop writing. If you don’t stop, then I’m happy.🙂

  4. Yes I want my writing to mean something! Thank you for the encouragement at the end. It’s good to be reminded that all our words are necessary.

  5. meg says:

    This is a great post! It’s given me more faith in what I’m doing than just about anything else I’ve heard or read. Thank you.

  6. Christina says:

    A very meaningful post Ollin!

    And the last part where you point out that ALL types of writing are needed is especially salient.

    I’ve heard people belittle the meaningfulness of so many novels because they weren’t branded “literary” enough – as if only a certain type of writing or novel is worthy of its place in the literary world or has the power to be meaningful to readers.

    And that’s what I find utterly unfair. Because people/readers/humanity need different types of writing/novels for different situations in their lives in order to cope.

    It’s the effectiveness of a novel and its ability to help a reader that makes it meaningful and worthy – and that has nothing to do with the label critics have slapped on it.

  7. I’m really glad you blogged about this. This rang so true because recently my younger brother died very suddenly. It was clearly all I could think about, but it was still a super hard decision to blog about something so intensely personal. Still, I wanted to write about it for the exact reason you said: life is so fleeting, and by writing about it, I was in essence giving meaning to my grief and to my brother’s life.

    Just as you said: “Because at some point, writing just for ourselves is not enough. Writing just for the love of writing is not enough. Even the usefulness of our writing is just not enough. We need MEANING.”

    And I NEEDED that meaning.
    Thanks for listening (and, of course, writing!),

    Julia
    http://www.wordsxo.com/2011/04/season-of-loss.html

    • Ollin says:

      Thank you Julia for sharing your thoughts. I always have my hesitations with a post, because most blogs don’t go this deep, hehe. But I’ve been listening to all of you and I just went with my gut feeling. It’s an issue that needs to be addressed, and it really has everything to do with writing.

      My best wishes to you and your family as you mourn your loss.

  8. […] 3 Paradigm Shifts to Help Make Your Writing Meaningful – INSPIRATION. From Ollin Morales. […]

  9. […] well with me, and want to share a couple of them. One is by Ollin Morales of Courage2Create called 3 Paradigm Shifts to Help Make Your Writing Meaningful (I guess I have a thing about paradigm shifts). It’s a good read if you are a writer who is […]

  10. Another great post. Simple advice that has such an impact on writing. I hope many writers read this (especially the it’s not about YOU part). I’m glad you go deep. It makes your blog unique and it keeps me coming back to read more of your thoughts! You say many things on your blog that I am not bold enough too.

    • Ollin says:

      Thanks Haley. That’s very reassuring. I don’t know of any blog that goes as deep as mine, otherwise, I don’t think I would feel as hesitant some times to post the things I say. Hehe. Glad you are enjoying it!

  11. […] 3 Paradigm Shifts to Help Make Your Writing Meaningful […]

  12. tahliaN says:

    Fantastic post. I love that you’ve written it and I hope you write more on putting meaning into your writing, not that you put it in, as you know, it comes out of who you are.

    It’s great that someone is talking about this and it’s great that writers are wanting to write something meaningful because that’s what I like to see in a book and that was my whole motivation for writing the Diamond Peak series.

    It’s knowing that what I’m writing has a deeper meaning behind the story that keeps me at it.

  13. MDK says:

    Greetings Ollin and fellow readers,

    I subscribe to a number of writing blogs, and this one is one of the most useful for me. I agree with all 3 points. Especially, the meaning not only of our finished products, but the journey of getting there has merit, as well. I’ve just started reading “Existential Psychotherapy” by Irvin D Yalom. I’m going into it with a writer’s frame of mind.

  14. Mercedes says:

    Absolutely beautiful. There are times to put pens to paper, and times to put the pen down and pick up some shovels and sandbags. These things aren’t mutually exclusive. I loved this post!

  15. When I was still teaching, I liked to start each new school year with my rationale for why students should take an English class—it’s always the hardest subject to sell to teenagers, after all, since its use is not as tangible as science, math, or history that’s at least something that has happened and impacted the world. They don’t recognize as much value in reading and analyzing fiction, especially if it’s a story they’re being forced to read and don’t personally find entertaining. So how I always approached it was by explaining how every story reflects some aspect of the universal human condition. Every author, even though only capable of writing from his/her individual, unique frame of reference, is writing something influenced by how they perceive and interact with the world, that even fictional realities have bearing in actual reality in some way, even if they’re not about a specific, actual life, place, or historical event. Shakespeare continues to be required reading because Shakespeare wrote on topics that people continue relating to, regardless if ways of speaking, dressing, etc. have changed. You can take the crux of the conflict in one of those plays and easily drop it into any time period, any setting/situation.

    I think, as writers, even when we think we’re writing something just for fun or just for ourselves, we’re still tapping into our humanity and putting something in print that is relatable on a shared human level. And whenever we, as readers, read something and internalize it to any extent, we’ve automatically attached meaning to it. That’s my two cents, anyway🙂

  16. Wonderful post Ollin!
    I really do appreciate all of your words. It is so true that we are only here for a short time.
    I believe that anything that we choose to do, that is not damaging or destructive to anyone or anything is meaningful.
    As for writing, it is meaningful because people need it. We need stories that inspire and entertain, characters who teach us to see another point of view. We need information that can help us to grow and learn…you get the picture, obviously.
    What I have discovered since I began blogging, is that reading what those who are not paid-professionals write creates a new perspective on the world. I hadn’t realized that simply reading what “sells” whether in books or news has it’s place but doesn’t provide the whole picture.
    Thank you for sharing.

  17. Great post Ollin. I love what you said about the fleetingness of life and how it makes your writing meaningful. I was telling a friend yesterday that both of us have an intellectual understanding of how life is transitory but to really live it is another thing. My challenge is to grasp that this moment is the only thing that matters and if I could use my writing to explore what it is that I glimpse in this moment so that I can be a better writer because I would write from the heart and strive to communicate what it is that I feel and accept it and move on to explore the next thing

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