Editor’s note: this post was originally featured on this blog in 2011. New posts on the C2C will return on January 6th, 2014.
“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.
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