Break Your Own Story

Yesterday’s email — about writing as a way to stop ruminating — seems to have struck a nerve. There’s lots of anxiety out there, so today I want to delve a little deeper into that.

Before we jump in though, here’s the most important thing: you always know the answer. Sometimes it just takes a while to be able to put it into words. Once The Thing has become clear, your only job is not to flinch.

So: different types of writing are good for different types of problems.
When you have an undefined sense of anxiety but you don’t know what’s causing it, a ‘free write’ can be great for figuring out what the issue is.

This is where you just go completely unfiltered — just put down literally whatever comes into your brain, don’t worry about finishing one thought before moving on — abandon all the rules and just go for a total stream of consciousness.

Things might get weird, and that’s perfectly fine. Follow your brain like Alice following the White Rabbit into Wonderland.

If you know what’s bothering you but want to go deeper, then a more precise approach can be good. Get really specific about it.

Dig way down deep into whence this problem came from. Examine closely how it’s played out, this time and all the times in the past. Name the specifics about it that are rankling you. Force the details to explain themselves.

This process is often slower, because you’re looking for exactly the right word to explain something to yourself, exactly the right angle on it. But as a result it’s more action-oriented and often presents a solution more quickly.
Maybe the action is to spend more time writing, more time thinking.

Often the stuff that comes out at first pass is not The Thing. Often The Thing is very good at hiding from us, which is why we’re in this mess in the first place. Often The Thing is dressed up in masquerade, disguising itself as something else to throw you off the trail.

Don’t be deceived. Don’t be satisfied with the first answers you get. Be the tenacious, plucky investigator who gets to break the big story of your life.

Breaking these stories takes practice. Even if I’ve written about something 50 times, I know that if I’m still ruminating on it, I’m not done writing about it. I need to keep digging, because obviously I’m not finished with it.

That’s not to say I’m not ready to act on it in any way. You can make changes while continuing to go deeper, but accept that there’s still work to be done there, and that it might take a while.

Knowing yourself, and acting on what you know — it’s a lifetime’s work.

The answer to all these internal struggles are already in you. Your body has all the deets. It just takes a while to work up through all your viscera and into your line of sight.

It will get easier, and it will get faster. But let it take the time it takes.

Then when you find it, The Thing, decide carefully what to do with it.

A lot of anxiety comes from indecision, so fold this into your process. Write about what comes next. Imagine all the different possible outcomes. Map out the consequences of acting, and not acting.

Figure out what your ideal outcome is, and take as many pages as you need to reverse engineer how to get there.