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, and just stop being afraid of starting. Because that’s trope I was used to hearing: don’t fear the blank page, just get messy and get moving.
After starting and stopping so many projects I realized that it wasn’t fear of a blank page. It was lack of vision.
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 saw that 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 behind the scenes. It wasn’t about getting work done. It was about finding meaningful work to do.
Seen and unseen
All my drafts feel to me like stars in deep space. Think of the sky on a truly dark night. Lots of stars fill the sky. Imagine now all those stars circling around large, dark, magnetic blacknesses. A black hole, say.
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. But what does it compel us to do? That can be hard to discern.
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?
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? Maybe.
Guessing moves one along, but it’s awkward and slow. Unless you’re lucky, 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 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.
Talking, especially to others, can help us see the shape of the thing that compels us.
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. They lack pull. If you don’t feel the pull—the gravity of the black hole drawing you in—then you’re too far away from where you need to be.
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.
What do you really, actually care about doing?
I didn’t have my vision in place and so I didn’t know where to head. It’s disheartening to spend a quick five minutes writing because it feels pointless: to what end am I writing? It doesn’t connect us to that strong 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 Twittergram 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, we are too far away from our gravity.
The small sits upon the big.
If the big idea is missing, small ideas will be a mess. They will be guesses.
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.
Your vision is your why.
A vision is that black hole. It’s big, and probably fuzzy at the edges. It shifts slowly over time, but retains an essential, compelling core. It tells you why you’re here, why you do your work. Your vision is the gravity of that black hole: it pulls you along, and towards the heart of something big and special.
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, through what it draws close.
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: writing, as always, and pulling together ideas of psyche and systems and creativity and how it can all be done beautifully and with some fucking force. I’m just starting, and I finally see how many of my ideas can come together when previously there was no cohesion 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 or dialogue or draw 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 glimmers of new stars emerge, moving around a compelling dark shape.