Stories We Tell Ourselves, or, The Narrative Fallacy

Whatever you cling to, it is not that. – Pema Chödrön

A gentle reminder for me not to get attached to the stories I create, or the perspectives I hold. I read Chinua Achebe’s wonderful book, When Things Fall Apart, many years ago and it still has a special place in my life. It’s one of those essays you mentally bookmark and reflect on when things get difficult.

All progress starts with telling the truth and the worst battle is between what you know and what you feel. We create our own narrative, all the while everyone else is creating theirs. It’s no wonder we experience confusion and disagreement on fundamental aspects of our shared reality. It’s because our narratives diverged long ago and we didn’t realize it within the protective bubble of stories we tell ourselves. Life is mainly about bridging the gap between reality as constructed by our minds, and reality as it really is.

When you consider how hard it is to change yourself, you’ll understand what little chance you have in trying to change others.

Despite all of life’s little obstacles, nothing makes me happier than a great cup of coffee in the morning.

Kill Your Darlings

This applies to so many things in life. Kill your darlings.

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Brian Reed, from This American Life, ended with a profoundly insightful statement.

It’s so much harder to drag something mediocre over the finishing line than to make something great. Killing is the secret source of getting things to be good.

The interview was around the instant hit podcast, “S-Town”. Most of it is about the podcast itself and the compelling person at its center, but the true insight comes at the end when Brian Reed describes the recipe for obtaining the best out of podcasts, and life. Kill the mediocre. Kill it without remorse. Get rid of it. It’s just baggage that will prevent you from crossing the finish line.

Why I Decided to Start a Blog and Why You Should Too

When you can write well, you can think well.

This is Matt Mullenweg’s positive appropriation of a quote attributed to both George Orwell and Oscar Wilde. I think those two were onto something.

Writing takes many forms. Some people peck on their keyboards and some craft beautiful longhand letters. Most of my writing is in cursive (many would call it ‘chicken scratch’) on top perforated legal pads. I buy them in bulk and go through one pad every couple of weeks. I’ll write on the front of each page and then flip it over to continue on the next, never writing on the back of the page. My favorite pen is the Pilot Precise V7 RT but it bleeds a little so I don’t write on both sides of the pages. I go through one of these pens every couple of weeks as well so I also buy them in bulk. Sometimes I use my laptop as a writing surface:

Chromebooks are so versatile! Not only can you write WITH them but you can also write ON them!

At the end of the writing session I’ll tear out the pages, staple them together, and file them in a folder corresponding to their content. It could be a something for my journal, a list, an idea, a diagram, notes from a phone call or meeting – I’m a compulsive note-taker. I have this sense, though, that it’s not something creative.–And that bothers me. However, for better or for worse, that’s my writing process.

I’ve always admired Stephen King. Not only as a writer, but also for what he’s overcome in his personal live, both physically and emotionally. It’s presented beautifully in this Zen Pencils comic, The Desk.

In his memoir, “On Writing”, Stephen King says to tackle the things that are hardest to write.

The most important things are the hardest things to say,

writes King.

They are the things you get ashamed of because words diminish your feelings.

Most great pieces of writing are preceded with hours of thought. In King’s mind,

Writing is refined thinking.

That echoes what Orwell and Wilde laid out for us.

As far as the mechanics go, there is plenty of advice about being a better writer but one of the best essays on writing is from Scott Adams – “The Day You Became a Better Writer”. Who knew that a simple business writing course has 80% of what you need to be a good writer? Seriously, who knew this and why was it kept secret for so long? I suspect that some authors like to over-complicate their craft, perhaps from ego, or perhaps just from not having taken a course in business writing. The Pareto Principle certainly applies here, learning 20% of the fundamentals will improve your writing by 80%.

To summarize on a contrarian note I leave you with the most important rule in Neil Gaiman’s “8 Rules of Writing”. It’s the last one:

The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

 

References:

On Writing – Stephen King

Stephen King: The Desk – Zen Pencils

The Day You Became a Better Writer – Scott Adams

8 Rules of Writing – Neil Gaiman

Bulk Professional Legal Pads – Amazon

Pilot Precise V7 Pens – Amazon

 

How Writing Helps You Clearly and Concisely Articulate Your Thoughts

A blank page is beautiful.

It’s a painting ready to emerge with the colors of words and the brush strokes of sentences. Although it takes many attempts at writes, rewrites, and revisions; the end result is so much more satisfying than the spoken alternative. But it’s painful.

Kurt Vonnegut said about his writing process:

“When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.”

It’s much harder to corral your thoughts and write them out intelligently on paper than to just ramble on when speaking. There’s an inherent difficulty in the creative process, but without which the painting wouldn’t be so elegant and satisfying.

Mark Twain once quipped,

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

In the end, it’s about communicating. – And not just with others, but with ourselves as well. Writing cages the monkey mind. It creates a disciplined environment where you can capture and lay out your thoughts in a non-linear fashion as they arise. Then carefully examine and rearrange them to make sense of and provide additional insights. It allows you to explore the core components of the ideas that were previously bouncing around in your head.

Writing temporarily tames our constant mental chatter by trapping it on a two-dimensional page. This technique is especially useful for unmasking anxiety and fear. When you spell out (literally) the thing that is causing you stress and anxiety, it suddenly calcifies into dry ink on a thin page. Like a mundane item on a to-do list; and becomes much smaller, more insignificant, and certainly surmountable.

Writing forces you to be intentional in what you say.

 

Now for the personal part. I began working on this blog yesterday and already had an idea for the first post. But I started off by trying to make it all “SEO-friendly”. I even used a long blog title like the YOAST WordPress plugin suggested – apparently Google loves those things! However, this morning I woke up early, with the sun – the best way to wake up, and as I lay there thinking I decided that it simply needs to be in my own voice.

You don’t need to find your voice, you just need to be your voice.

 

I decided at that point that the writing process will be as follows: write on paper – or in Calmly, and only use WordPress for posting. I suspect this will be good for me. It will help me switch from the mindset of simply sharing articles to internalizing them, determining the value, and then sharing that value with others. Read, digest, apply, then share. Rinse, repeat.

Write for yourself, share for others.