It wasn't fear of a blank page. It was lack of vision.
For someone who has felt for decades an obsession with creating a body of expressive work, I have struggled mightily with completing my work.
I told myself in repeated pep talks that I needed to get over my silly distractions, commit to a project, then carry on writing. I would “just do it”, or something.
Generally speaking, I’ve gotten really stuck in draft modes. I have lots and lots of little drafts, often unsatisfying small bits and pieces of a larger and inaccessibly vague parent concept. Some essays, some fiction, some just plans-for-essays or plans-for-fictions.
I clearly had the ability to start, but something repeatedly stymied me from seeing the work through to a satisfying conclusion. Why did I consistently lack momentum to continue the work?
Why did I feel so afraid to “commit” to one of the threads? Was I even afraid, or did I feel something else? Why could I not just choose and move forward? Why couldn’t I just take some advice from a creativity book and get moving?
Because there was a bigger question at play, beyond a superficial executing-of-work. It was a question of meaning.
Seen and unseen
All my drafts feel to me like stars in deep space. You’re probably plagued with light pollution, but you know how many stars fill the sky. Imagine further all those stars circling around large, dark, magnetic blacknesses—a black hole.
The stars are the beginnings, the drafts. The bigger question at play is that black hole—it’s there, and it’s powerful, but you can’t see it. You can only infer that it’s there based on the behavior of all those stars. I didn’t fully realize that the large, dark, magnetic questioning force was there until somewhat recently. I would feels aspects of it, but I couldn’t rationalize what it all meant.
Black holes pull so strongly that light itself cannot escape. I could feel the pull, the powerful gravity—I told you, decades of fascination. The pull is real, the pull persists, and the pull is hard to understand when it is not easily seen. But it’s there, and it compels.
Find the gravity
My work has always had a desire to work towards something big and archetypal and storied and alchemical but I wasn’t sure how to access that bigness.
What does that gravity pull mean? For me, artistically, personally, spiritually: there is an abiding sense of gravity towards something: what is that something? I assume you want to know this: what’s the damn hole, already? What’s it pulling for?
Because I had a hunch that I was being pulled towards an ineffable something, I reasoned that I could just guess my way towards it. Which is better than doing nothing, right? I think so.
This moves one along, but it’s awkward and slow—it’s not particularly efficient. Sometimes that’s how life works, but as a creativity coach I also firmly believe that life doesn’t have to be a journey of random guesswork. With the deliberate coaching reflection and conversation, we together can see the shape of the gravity sooner and more clearly than if you just tack along solo.
So for me, the choices I made were often just guesses disguised as choices, which is a very different thing than a true choice. Guesses-disguised-as-choices lack magic and purpose. Without magic and purpose your rocket will not get to deep space. An authentic choice is like rocket fuel. It’s pure motivation. A real choice is movement towards your North Star.
The thing that comes before the things
The world holds many bits of advice about just-doing-the-work: Have a regular creative ritual, make a mess on that first page to get going, work in the morning, grab five minutes when your kid is napping, whatever.
This can be solid advice, but it’s not where you start. There exists a precursor to these strategies that I don’t often hear discussed at much length: having a vision. I think this is a critical feature of any successful creative endeavor.
I didn’t have my vision in place and so I didn’t know where to head. If I don’t know where I’m headed, it’s disheartening to spend a quick five minutes writing because it feels pointless. It doesn’t connect us to our gravity, or distant north star.
When we are not resolved or clarified at the soulful, far-seeing level, doesn’t it make sense that we will tend to have trouble with smaller decision-making? That we will guess instead of choose, or over analyze which pen to buy, or choose Facebook instead of writing, or just feel sad and do nothing, because we don’t know where we’re going. We have no coordinates or compass to travel by.
The small sits upon the big.
If big is missing, small is a mess.
Now, I also knew about vision. I’ve been told it matters and I believed that. And if you’d asked me I may have thought I did have a vision.
But I didn’t. A vision is not an outline, a series of goals, or a to-do list. Those are trite in comparison. Useful at times, but not a vision.
A vision is just a bit more defined than that black hole, which is to say: it’s just a pull that you know is there and you have consciously begun to align your actions to its commands. It’s big, and probably fuzzy at the edges. It’s porous. It shifts slowly over time, but retains an essential core. It tells you why you’re here, why you do the work. Like I said, it’s your fuel. You may travel to a variety of galaxies in your life. You may meet people along the way, details of the plans may change, and you may have unexpected stopovers…but you can’t get anywhere without your rocket fuel.
There are many kinds of real choices, with different scales and gravities and durations. From my vantage point, this choice, or vision, that I’m describing is on the bigger end of things. So it makes sense that it’s taken time to even recognize it, much less figure out what to do with it. I had to do some soul research and live a while.
But I also believe that at any given moment of life, we craft a vision for that stage. Sometimes it’s a year-long vision, sometimes it’s a twenty-year vision. Often, the year-long visions build over time and coalesce into a bigger, longer vision.
The level of soul
The level of soul isn’t thought of much in our culture. It’s largely denied or thought of as fluff, munged into the mental landscape, or regarded archaic trappings of a medieval mindset.
The soul is real, it’s in you and around you, and it needs to be fed with the purposeful, resonant actions that you choose to take. What animates you. YES-actions. It’s your psyche. It’s that animated layer of you, the spark and sparkle of you.
But it’s complex, elusive, cloaked in shadows. Shape-shifting. Like a dream, it’s strange and yet familiar. Like a black hole that can’t be seen but shows us itself through its gravity.
So it makes sense to me that finding a connection to my current long-term vision—what my soul resonates with—amounted to a difficult task. Like I’ve said, we are shaped by the systems we live in and it can be difficult to grow beyond the shape of the box you’re in.
I wouldn’t say I’m done with this soul-alignment work, either. However, today I celebrate the fact that I noticed the black hole existed. That my unflagging urges weren’t vanity or an OCD tick but the pull of my soul towards a source of meaning.
What is my long-term vision? It’s here. It’s doing this. I’m just starting, and I finally see how many of my ideas can come together when previously there was no sense to them.
I would just leave with the question for you: if you are feeling like the work in front of you lacks magic or momentum, instead of “just starting”, perhaps consider asking yourself what black hole is pulling you. Towards what mysterious force are you being pulled? What are you really trying to do here? Maybe write about that a bit.
Consider working with a coach on the topic: a rich conversation can show you aspects of the vision that you may not have seen before. Examining the question from different angles and across a period of time creates a richer story for you, and you may begin to see faint glimmers of new stars emerge.
Getting a little clarity there will give you some courageous energy when you sit down to work: fuel for your rocket.