Faith seeking understanding, my personal journey towards a deeper knowledge of and intimacy with God, the cosmos, humanity and myself through thoughts, words and (occasionally) images, is a series of [hopefully] daily reflections I’m writing with the purpose of publishing something on a regular basis for others to read, either here, at joncarllewis.com or among my writings at Medium.com.
I must confess: I’ve been shirking my duty. To be more specific, I have been shirking my writing duties. Of course, for those who have been following my reflections in the “Faith Seeking Understanding” series, it looks like I have been on a roll: today is reflection number 40 in an unbroken series of daily posts (thanks be to God). But I’ve been shirking my writing duties, nevertheless. Because there are two other types of writing to which I have made a previous commitment, and the blasts of dopamine I get from blogging and Medium.com have distracted me from my other work.
You see, I consider myself to be a fiction writer. Let me rephrase that: I am a fiction writer (or, at least, I’ve been a fiction writer). I am 70,000 words into a first draft of a novel which I expect t be finished at 100,000 words. 30,000 words isn’t all that far to go, but I’m stuck. I’m not necessarily going to call it writer’s block; I think it’s something more insidious: a novel is a long-term project. It’s the very definition of delayed gratification. Furthermore, the dopamine rush I used to get when I saw my fantasies realized on the page doesn’t seem to satisfy the way it used to. I figure I know where the story’s going and how everybody’s going to get there at the end. So, the mystery is solved—for me, at least. All that’s left is the hard work of wrestling ten years of storytelling work into beautiful, seamless prose. And that seems, right now, like a lot of work.
In addition to being a currently-non-functioning fiction writer, I also had a longstanding habit of doing stream-of-consciousness journaling. Over the years I came to recognize it as a spiritual practice to become mindful of my feelings, my surroundings, my life situations, and free-associate in words on the page. I don’t at the moment know how to put into words how useful this has been in turning me in the direction of mental health (as well as sustaining me through several dark periods and spiritual crises over the years). But here, also, I seem to have stopped gushing my truest and deepest thoughts to the tune of a thousand words or more a day. What has happened? Certainly, I haven’t reached such a pinnacle of spiritual maturity or mental wellness that I no longer need the practice. Quite to the contrary, I feel I need it as much as ever.
So why have I dropped the ball on these two activities? Activities which have not only shaped my identity but given me an identity to shape?
As I hinted, previously, the culprit may be the dopamine rush I get from posting reflections on my blog and on Medium.com. Actually, it’s not merely the dopamine rush, but the whole system, the whole ritual, the whole habit I’ve been able to create around taking these reflections from concept to “finished” product. Some of the thousands of words of self-help I’ve read on establishing rituals, routines and habits have suddenly found fertile soil in which to germinate and flourish. I have established a specific time frame (between 9 pm and 11:30 pm every evening). I have established a specific place and posture (lying in bed). I have established a set of tools and procedures (writing in Microsoft Word on my laptop, then cutting and pasting into WordPress, then importing into Medium). I have engaged a reward feedback loop in the form of checking my stats on WordPress and Medium once a night. And the system works, just as countless articles have suggested it would.
So, what’s my next step? I’m not about to abandon my feel-good ritual here in this space. I’m also not going to quit almost three-quarters of the way through my novel. And I sure as hell intend to get back to my spiritual discipline of journaling.
The solution is staring me in the face. Or, at least, a place to begin. Much as I have found a time and a place for writing reflections, I must find a separate time and place for writing fiction. Perhaps mornings will work. Perhaps my office is the place for that. I must also set aside some tools: Microsoft Word is easy for me to write in, and Scrivener is a good program for storing large amounts of text, divided into chapters and scenes. So far, so good. Now, all I need is to set up a reward system to keep me motivated to work the system. I’m open to suggestion, here. My first draft isn’t ready for anyone’s eyes but my own, so I’m not quite ready to post on Medium or my blog. I’m sure I’ll figure out something.
But the fact remains that I have learned how to create a self-perpetuating system that works. And if I’ve done it once, I just might be able to establish another habit or two or three. I am mindful of the need to start small: at first, I told myself that my reflections only needed to be two sentences long. I am also mindful of the need for support. And I am mindful of the need for a reward.
Armed with this experience, I am pretty sure I can get myself moving in these two other areas of my writing life. Thank you for the part you’ve played in this journey.
Now, to figure out how to use what I’ve learned to get my body back in shape…
Thank you for your time and attention.
I’d love to know your thoughts on what you’ve read.
Please comment, below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
May God richly bless you on your journey.