Give me a typewriter and I’ll show you the meaning of life.
I understand that anyone can claim passion for anything. And who am I to disagree with bliss or crown one ecstasy above another? When you get lost in something you love, there’s no intervention possible. Your love won’t waiver until the first sign of betrayal. And even then, if it’s true love and if it doesn’t kill you, you’ll get up stronger and even more determined to make it work.
But allow me to make writing slightly holier than thy other profession by saying that unlike the other arts, it uses language to create worlds out of words, which psychologically speaking, cannot be separated from thought — that is, there’s no thinking without language or language without thinking, we don’t know what came first, that chicken or this egg — and writing, my dear, perfectly engages both sides of the brain into one optimal and most delightful sandwich. Want a bite? I’m gonna give it to you anyway.
Writing, in Ernest Hemingway‘s nutshell, is basically, just bleeding your life out on paper.
…Let’s focus on the second type of bleeding: the one where you successfully make a small incision in your creative aorta and then bleed yourself to death on that keyboard of yours for nothing short of hours or even centuries at a time, interrupted only by blood-clotting distractions.
The addictive part about extremes is that the more you frequent them “just this one time” the less you are able to find yourself in any other place but the beginning or end, the black or white, the all or nothing, heaven or hell, absolute bliss or total misery, euphoria or complete lethargy. You go from Blocked to Crazy, from empty to mental. And that, contrary to what some Certified Experts in Delusion preach around, does not make for good art — or at least not for the greatest, most sublime art that the muses could echo through you.
All things are in sympathy,” said Hippocrates, so called (Grand) Daddy of Medicine, over 2,000 years ago.
One of the most fascinating ways in which our inner and outer universe works is through synergy. We are much greater than the sum of our parts. Our elements are more powerful when they co-create together, than any single power they may have on their own or added to each other. When we create or are created by nature, we don’t just assemble our different pieces, we make new things.
Think of yourself as a Novel, unfolding on the shelves of life. You’re not just a bunch of letters or sentences or paragraphs or pauses or rhythm or style put together; that’s surgery talk. You are the magical combination of all your parts aligned and interacting with each other at a specific time in history, in a unique, unrepeatable way, creating the Masterpiece and the Phenomenon of You.
You are a symphony in which, if half the instruments are out of tune, or missing, the music won’t be more than noise or far from the Beethovens you could orchestrate. And don’t we already have enough noise?
Transfer this to writing. Hemingway had it right in that, the act of writing is just that, bleeding your heart out on a piece of paper. Merely inking your inner world on the outer one, that’s Writing 101. But if your inner wold is empty, stuck or afraid, poor, naked, hungry or unlived, then what kind of life will you be bleeding? Not even tree sap…
The Secret to Writing has nothing to do with writing, but everything to do with the life you will later put into writing.
As Henry Miller remarked,
Most writing is done away from the typewriter, away from the desk. I’d say it occurs in the quiet, silent moments, while you’re walking or shaving or playing a game, or whatever, or even talking to someone you’re not vitally interested in.
Seriously, dear Writer, what will you bleed if you are out of blood, sucked dry by your Survival Vampirism — trying hard to buy more years to your life, instead of life to your years? What will you give the world if you are empty? More meaningless pixels on a flashy screen? More murdered trees gathering dust on tired shelves?
You are responsible for what you offer to the world. Your art is your most serious business.
The lack of boundaries in art is madness. Just like accepting any other boundaries than those you can create for yourself, is also madness. Everything is in sympathy, and bleeding to death without any blood transfusions won’t make your art any better than it could be — that is, with you actually in it. Life has to flow through you, and art is not a dead end, it’s a river. So let’s put you back in the picture, and see how it looks.
Do you remember as a child, the joy you got out of life’s simplest pleasures? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if instead of more heart-depleting distraction or pain-numbing medication, all you needed to face the hardships of what you now call “adulthood” were just a re-acquaintance with that fresh, tasty, naked, bubbly, abundant life? And if writing is a reflection of life, wouldn’t it be that much richer and truer with this stuff flowing through your lungs?
Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of aliveness. As one of my favorite creativity architects, Steve Jobs, put it: “Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to keep your thinking clean to make it simple.”
So here are 7 simple but powerful blood transfusions that will restore your Writer’s circulation:
Most writers are champions at mastering the Art of Sleeplessness. It’s turned into Writing’s inseparable (evil) twin sister. There’s something about the peace and quiet of the night, some strange, writerly comfort in being wide awake and restless and inspired over a blank page or a screen, while the rest of the world is unplugging.
It’s as if you were part of a secret society, and the darkness protects you and helps you get the job done without worries, extra needs or cares, nobody watching over your shoulder, no people to tend to, no distractions… I’m with you.
But early mornings are equally peaceful. The Dawn is better than the Darkness, for your mind. The darkness wants and needs you resting (body and mind). It’s in the deepest dark when your body replenishes and recharges, as well as detoxes and produces melatonin — a hormone activated only when the darkness hits, essential for regulating your sleep-wake cycle, a powerful mortal-combat antioxidant, and a strong immune ass-kicker.
Poor sleeping is also largely responsible for your bouts of depression, mind-clouding, fatigue, irritability, a little pyscho episode here and there, plus other maladies. So can you switch your quiet nights with quiet early mornings? You’ll approach your blank screen with a more rested, grounded attitude. And your writing will stop strangling the reader.
2. Healthy food.
I don’t know you, but I’m mad at you for treating your body like a dumpster. That mind of yours, through which you understand and recreate the world, is rooted in your body and fed by what you put in it. Your brain is not a separate entity, it belongs to the same body as the rest of your organs. Your neurochemical configuration is highly affected by the food you eat.
Eating crap is like opening junk mail, clicking on every spammy looking ad online or paying people to install malware on your computer. And then miraculously expecting your machine to follow your commands and do the work. You’re smarter than that.
More bluntly put, if you are full of shit, what do you expect your writing to be? Just as the rest of what you create, you can’t give what you haven’t got. So if your car runs best on gas, then give it gas.
As a general rule applicable to most humans, animals and any other results of nature, we should eat as close to our mother nature as possible. This includes eliminating most or all (if possible) artificial, mutant food from our life: additives, chemicals, food coloring substances, saturated or trans fats, artificial sweeteners, savor enhancers… Learn to read food labels and get rid of these bastards. Most junk food contains several kinds of poison that, especially when combined, have been proven highly toxic on our body as well as the cause of neurological damage and degenerative brain disorders.
Don’t experiment on your health. Not smart to be a poisoned sheep. You are your first and most important doctor.
Increase your intake of whole foods, vegetables, greens, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, water… There is an abundance of healthy choices available to almost anyone with access to a computer, and so much free information from wellness professionals online, waiting to be researched and tried out by you. You aren’t garbage and you have no excuse for treating yourself like garbage.
You are a powerful creator and, like Walt Whitman, “you sound your barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.” You may not be able to do everything, but you are always able to do some-thing, one thing, any-thing. So don’t let the vastness of the Could or Should or Would, keep you from the power of the Do.
3. Love / Intimacy / Human contact.
Sex too, if you can. In other words, connection. Interdependence is the new Independence. True independence doesn’t really exist. We are as much part of the whole as we are individuals. We are the Universe manifesting itself in flesh and we all derive from the same source. “No man is an island,” (John Donne) — and no sane artist can last long by acting as one. We are peninsulas, at the very least. Our umbilical cord to the rest of the world will never be cut.
Out of most artistic professions, writing is one of the loneliest.
Bombarded with noise and thirsty for the necessary silence we need to decipher ourselves and then translate our life into words, we writers tend to seclude in our solitary sanctuaries, some made of stone, others of invisible bricks, and we shoot at anyone who dares to interrupt our creative process — with metaphors, analogies or murderous looks. But we often miss the point of human contact. (And I am so guilty of this, I shouldn’t even be talking).
True, authentic, restoring human touch recharges our batteries and makes our communication complete.
Let me ask you something: If you were alone in the world, would you write? If your answer is yes, then my question is…Why? Why do we really write? We often answer this in the “I” version — because “I” need to…because it makes “Me” feel alive. And that should be our first motivation. But part B of this process is to communicate, and the end of all communication, just like the beginning of it, is…(drumroll) a PERSON (or another life form.) It starts with an I, it goes to You and it turns into a We.
Going back to the start, writing is a reflection of life. If your life stays locked inside the I and Me with only rare approximations to the You or the We — then your writing will also remain a solitary meal.
4. Time away from the computer.
The classics are a great example of this type of break. Pick any novel written before the 50’s — or even closer up, anything before the boom of the Internet — and you’ll taste life with the tip of your tongue. You’ll feel the joy and pain of it in your mouth, so raw, you’ll cry and laugh and smell it, eat it and drink it, become It. Even when the events described are completely unrelatable to your current world.
Not so much in the past 20 years. Our novels now read more like movies on a paper screen (e-reader, mind me). We’ve separated ourselves so much from life, from the most natural barefoot pleasures and from the nurturing art of conversation, of just enjoying other human beings and forms of life besides our own, that our writing hasn’t had a choice but to imitate us.
And I’m not talking about just describing life. Any trained robot can do that. But there is this sixth or seventh sense, belonging to the animal in us, that immediately detects the life that is just told from the one that is also lived.
So when you’re stuck inside yourself and your writing starts to smell like death, here’s what you shall do:
Take a walk in nature — this always shows you a bigger picture than the four walls of your stale imagination. Call a friend (or an enemy), anything that reminds you that you’re alive and on Earth and it matters. Grab a book and sit in a cafe corner. Watch people passing by. Breathe in the street air. Lie down on the grass, in the sand, on a rock. Smell the earth. Taste life. Pay attention. Take notes in your head (and notebook). Watch a film — put inspiration before distraction. Eat a great meal. Chew your food. Take a dance lesson. Play with your pet. Go on a trip. Even a weekend trip. If you can’t afford it, go on a 3-hour road trip, wherever intuition takes you. Reset your mental computer. Give it a few hours to reconfigure. And then come back and put that newly found aliveness into words.
Henry Miller just texted me this to help me finish my thought:
Develop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature, music, the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.
And Anaïs Nin got jealous so she wanted in:
This, next to sleep, is probably the most common and most worrisome of all Writer’s Issues. The less you move, the less you feel like moving. Your mind may want to. You may rationally tell yourself that you will…as soon as this article is finished. (Or tomorrow, for sure, you’ll start tomorrow). Except that your body won’t let you, without putting up a big fight. Your always so obedient body works through order and repetition, and it is wired to develop habits that are extremely hard to break, even when truly convinced that it’s in your benefit.
3 life-altering reasons to exercise like your art depended on it, you ask?
I’ll give you 4:
I. Your lymphatic fluid is like a second blood. It activates elimination through the intestines (the most effective kind of detoxing) and it produces white blood cells. Think of it as your bodyguard. It stimulates your immune system and it fights off the uninvited bad bacteria guys. The problem is that, unlike your cardiovascular system, this secondary “blood” doesn’t have a heart, or any other pumping mechanism, so it won’t flow unless you move.
II. Blood flowing freely. Circulation, baby. Your poor heart will keep pumping, sure. But if you don’t let that blood flow to your extremities, you are interfering with your natural flow and your nutrient assimilation will suffer. Your blood feeds your cells and organs. It carries the life to the masses. You just have to get out of its way.
III. More oxygen to the brain. Great ideas don’t just come out of thin air… Or, do they? When you engage in any kind of aerobic exercise, your lungs expand and your blood receives more oxygen, which it carries faster, through the rest of your body. More oxygen in your brain equals more clarity, more focus, less cloudiness, more efficiency. Does your brain feel clogged? Go for a run.
TIP: If you listen to podcasts, or you have to memorize information, try listening to them while running or walking outside. Double-shot of oxygen. You’ll remember everything much more clearly than if you hear it while inactive and indoors.
IV. An increase in oxytocin, a.k.a. the “love & life” hormone. In addition to being released through special human contact (see #3) — like a hug, an orgasm or childbirth — oxytocin is one of the most important molecules our body fabricates and it is also released when you exercise outdoors. It inhibits cortisol, (the evil bitch, immune suppressor stress hormone), it boosts your immune system, feeds your enthusiasm, and it makes you feel like you have superpowers. And when you feel that great, your writing will also be like flying, passing through walls or walking on water.
6. Good artistic company.
Inspiration decreases inflammation. Exposure to other art inspires you to create more of yours. Culture is our shared social plasma, the top layer of our aliveness, a sort of big-scale Rensaissance lounge where we come together and communicate with each other through our creations. In words of Mr. F. Scott Fitzgerald (who also just texted me):
That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.
Isolation may temporarily be a good idea: to heal you from your smaller self, from energy-sucking negative vampires, or to give you space and time to write without distractions. But you can’t last long without cultural air or food, more so, without the company of other seekers.
Or, maybe you can last even a lifetime in solitary confinement, but the point here is not your artistic survival. Art is your bliss, your ecstasy and your aliveness. Come have some tea?
7. Faith / Mystery / Awe.
It’s what makes you epic. Not the kind of epic we tag our genres or movies with. No. The epic that your supernatural human soul comes equipped with when you arrive into the world. The epic you need to fight the zombies of the commonplace and ghosts of the ordinary, the kind of epic your inner 5-year old understands very well but which adulthood is embarrassed to embrace, because we’ve all been bitten by the Seriousness virus, and pessimism is almost as contagious as inspiration.
Faith helps you understand that realism does not necessarily have to be real or opposed to optimism. It makes you believe that the universe has your back and does not hate you. And it pushes you beyond your comfort zone, to hope for things not yet seen — the ones you’ll help materialize.
Faith also forces you to acknowledge that even though you are a complete and unabridged epic Novel in and of yourself, you also live in a library, surrounded by other books, and though you’re the only unit of your kind, you’re still a child and you know nothing yet.
Being in awe of the mystery that lies beyond your words and breathes through your lungs, of the bigger picture and greater story — of that which is above your little #selfie self, opens a door in your writing. And through that door, the reader tastes the infinite. Without the infinite inside you, you’re too small. Your words won’t last unless you walk them through the fire.
Ironically, in the end, the only words worth remembering are those that give you a glimpse of the life that cannot be put into words.
This isn’t something that, as an artist, you can give to others, unless you first have the openness and humility of receiving it from and through others, and secondly (and often painfully), the dedication to nourish this burning light in you, day after day after day and amen.
As Grandpa Einstein once told me by the fire: “You don’t solve a problem with the same consciousness that created it.” So if your writing is suffering dry, you don’t fix it with more of that same suffering or dryness (whether this comes in the form of exhausted crazy writing or hiding from it all together).
And if your writing isn’t particularly suffering, it can always use a little more bloody life, can’t it? Besides, how will you know what it is to be fully alive unless you try it?
I summon and challenge you to pick up these Daily Dates with your Higher Self for at least 7 days. Let me know if they work. If not, I’ll reimburse your inspiration with another article.