A dear friend recently reached out to me for advice that I’m not entirely sure I’m qualified to give. They were feeling overwhelmed with the world, distraught, and finding it difficult to focus on art through their medical struggles and wanted some wisdom on how to push through it.
Every response I can think of honestly feels rather trite.
But perhaps that’s okay. Perhaps things are overused for a reason, but we overlook them because it seems so commonplace and useless. We’re all familiar with “tried and true” but perhaps there is value in the idea of “trite, but true.”
And that’s all I can really offer you during these times of artistic constipation. A small piece of trite but true advice.
Sit down and just do it. Just vomit it out, as if it were no different than doing a dish or tying your shoe. It doesn’t have to be clever or pretty, it doesn’t have to be anything worth anything–you just need to do it. Just put your fingers to the keys or pen to paper and write. It doesn’t have to be relevant, it can literally be just a string of words that aren’t even relevant to your current project–or even ones that don’t make sense!
It’s a bit like jumpstarting a car. When you’ve left it alone for a while, sometimes you need to give it a jolt simply to get it back on track.
And sometimes the best way to do this, I’ve found, is to bleed everything into ink. I had a bad day? I write about it. I have a moment of elation? I jot it down. Sometimes they’re useless little notes in my phone, recently I’ve taken to carrying around a Field Notes journal because it’s small and fits even in my useless girl pockets (truly, why is it the pockets in pants made for women can’t seem to hold anything? What is the point of a purely aesthetic pocket? Yes, the detailing helps keep the garment from looking too plain, but one does want for some utilitarian purpose.)
The point is, if you want to push past the fog, I’ve found the best way is to literally write about everything. The mundane things, the excruciating things, the “wow no one will ever believe me this happened” things, and once you’ve gotten back in that habit–and it is, I’m afraid, a habit–the rest will be much easier. Not easy, mind you, I’m fairly certain anyone who says writing is ‘easy’ is an absolute liar but… easier.
Because you’re training your brain. You’re starting an almost Pavlovian experiment. You have a thought, your impulse is to write it down. You hear a joke? You write it down, without thinking. You are struck with a heart-wrenching, absolute soul hollowing feeling?
You. Write. It. Down.
It may feel crass at first, you’re likely not going to feel very good at any of it, that’s for certain for quite some time. Hell, at this point I’ve been writing for years, have put up a live performance of my work, published works through self-determination and traditional press…
And I’m still not sure if I’m very good at it.
But it’s become a habit I can’t break. It’s become a compulsion that I feel uncomfortable if I don’t follow through with it.
Perhaps that’s all a bit trite and cliche. But it just so happens that I know it to be true.