Embrace the Chaos

Antonio Cueva

            So many nights I find myself trapped within my body. The urge to write or to make art mixes with a restlessness that surely should result in some kind of glorious creation: if my drive is to put thoughts to paper, words to song, lines to sketchpad, why won’t anything come out?

            It’s a profound artist’s block. A song I want to sing gets trapped in my throat as I switch gears to ponder the next plot point for a medieval fantasy fiction series. Questions about where to take my nearly finished manuscript are lost in the dust as I push aside narrative pursuits and my schoolwork to draw the characters I’ve been developing, even though I’m not a visual artist. I listen to old recordings of songs I’m trying to turn into music, and I think: “Someday, I’ll figure out what to do with that.”

            Writers’ block is a phenomenon many of us experience, yet we all encounter it in different ways. One of the most common pieces of advice I’ve heard from my time listening to those who know better than me is to sit down and write every day, whether or not you feel compelled to. Personally, I’m not a creature of habit, and so this work ethic never took. But if you’re not reassured by the promise of getting words down each day—250 words of garbage or 1,200 written in an inspired, near-spiritual fervor (looking back, probably still garbage)—then where should you turn? There’s the idea of the “Shitty First Draft” coined by writer Anne Lamott, who suggests that before writing anything the writer should accept that the work won’t be perfect, or maybe not very good at all, which helps to reduce anxiety for perfection so the writer gets all their thoughts down with a “better comes later” mindset. Lamott’s idea goes hand in hand with the “daily writing habit” model, where the idea of getting something down is always more important than the actual “worth” of that product.

            I would probably like the idea of a “shitty first draft” if I ever got around to finishing a draft at all. But a real problem for me arises from the deluge of ideas, of different mediums I might use, that assault me on the regular. The only piece of advice I take to heart and that I’d like to give back is: “just don’t stop.”

            Whether I’m churning something out or switching between the project tabs on my laptop (notes for a medieval fantasy fiction, classic YA, or endless short story ideas) to note down literally a sentence’s worth of an idea. You can never really be stopped if you keep dreaming and believing and investigating every idea that comes to mind.

            So my advice? Embrace the chaos. Eventually, something brilliant’s bound to come.