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Breaching the Abominable Void: A Lesson on Writing

By Brian Livingston

Lazy Creativity features innovative and creative thinkers, makers, and doers. As part of our guest blogging series we aim to give platform to diverse thinking, ideas, and topics. Brian is the Author of "The Habits of Squirrels," which is available through his website.

The Abominable Void

For me, the first stage of writing sucks. I know I’m not alone. And I do suffer the usual, oft discussed suspects: the ghastly blank page; the incessant taunting of the blinking cursor, the overwhelming, soul-crushing pressure of unlimited possibility—but none of them are my primary adversary. They’re all outdone, both individually and in total, by something I can only vaguely refer to as the abominable void. For when I first set out on a new project, I am alone in the darkness. I understand the void is a misnomer, because there is a world around me, but I have no sense of it. The void offers no information. There’s no map, no guideposts, blazes, or landmarks. No guarantee that the next step will land on walkable terrain. Just me and the unobliging darkness. How could I ever know where to go? For no matter how I plan, squint, shout, and strain my eyes, when I stand in a new universe, the great unknowable unknown renders my initial keystrokes a blind leap. That unknowability is what frustrates me and held my first novel purely hypothetical for five years. The fear of imperfect words. The fear of starting such a massive endeavor off on the wrong foot. The fear of waste.

It went like this—I feared wasting time, so I didn’t write, so I wasted time. I feared writing something subpar, so I wrote nothing.

Eventually, and there’s no lesson here, I got lucky. I thought of a joke, a contrived bit about a father who’s worried that his daughter is so insensitive because he took too much Benadryl on he and his wife’s first anniversary. I slept on these words, and deleted them. But the premise, an aging father struggles to place the blame for his fractured relationship with his child, remained. And I was off. There’s a lot of information to be gained from mistakes, especially the more embarrassing ones. At least now I had direction. Some idea of the terrain and the relationships that would define the story. I kept chooglin’ in that direction and, eventually, tripped and retraced my steps enough that a path formed. Other characters started tagging along and the sun began to rise, shedding light on the void. Soon, the world was mine.

The Lesson

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to suss a lesson out of this—enough time that I started to feel like I was standing on the precipice of yet another void. Eventually, what I settled on is that the first words don’t matter. For whatever reason, this brings me peace, makes me feel easier about thrusting an uninformed jumble onto the page. The void doesn’t have to breached perfectly, or even with precision; it simply must be breached. The first steps in my projects aren’t the first steps on a new trail; they’re simply the trips to the outfitter to get the proper gear, the research to learn how to research. For me, they aren’t even part of the story, they’re solely intended to bring me to the table and help me get acquainted with the new world. I don’t have to show my work. No one will ever see my first words. The only important thing is that they happen.

Brian can be found on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and through his Website.


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