Uncertainty and the Writing Life
October 15, 2016
I’ve been reading Toni Bernhard’s How To Wake Up: A Buddhist Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow. Uncertainty and unpredictability are bound to arise in our lives, for the only constant in life is change, Bernhard writes, citing one of the Buiddha’s teachings. Those of us who desire certainty and predictability and who cannot accept that uncertainty and unpredictability are normal features of human existence are sure to become unduly stressed, which will make difficult times even harder. For many of us, learning acceptance of change is be a lifelong project.
In our writing practice, uncertainty and unpredictability abound. And understanding this in our work is good practice for understanding this in our lives beyond the desk. Was today a good writing day? If so, do we expect tomorrow to be equally wonderful? And are we ready to walk away from our project if it is not? If it is a fine writing day, all well and good. But if it isn’t, do we become disappointed in our work, in ourselves, for not being able to continue to exist in that sweet writing spot where everything seems to go well? Conversely, was today a difficult writing day? If so, do we fear tomorrow’s work as we convince ourselves we’re on a losing streak in our work? But it’s impossible for us to predict whether tomorrow will be equally difficult. It might, but then again, today’s angst might be the prelude to tomorrow’s breakthrough. And if we’d walked away from our work, in despair because of how the work went on a difficult day, we’d miss that shift in the work that took it in an altogether new and exciting direction. For there’s no way for us to predict, there’s no way for us to know with any degree of certainty what will happen in our writing lives when we sit down to do our work tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.
This then becomes a part of our writing practice: working at understanding that it will be of necessity unpredictable. That there will be magical days. That there will be miserable ones. And that we can never predict what will happen on any given day. I suspect that some people are dissuaded from the writing life because of this inevitable fact. But we can shift our perspective so that we use our work as a training ground for accepting the uncertain and unpredictable nature of our lives away from the desk. So the idea is to simply do our work, to let what happens happen, and to work at acknowledging that we have relatively little control over whether a day’s work will feel as if it were a blessing or a curse. We will likely have both kinds of writing days in equal measure over the course of our writing lives. And on our good days, we can be grateful. And on our difficult days, we can try to accept and understand that the tenor of each of our writing days will always be unpredictable.