Test Your Assumptions

On the morning of the second of April last year, my sweetheart and I were loitering in a carpark down by Lisbon’s train and ferry terminal.

It was mostly empty, the first Covid lockdown just having come into effect. It was eery, and when the dark van pulled up in front of us, we were nervous.

The woman who got out was nervous, too. She looked spooked, thrust a small bundle at us, and started talking so fast that I missed half of what she said. Moments later, she was gone.

We stood in the carpark, a little dazed, and looked down at the bundle.

Big brown eyes looked up at us. It was our new pup, Obi.

I couldn’t have known it at the time, but he would spend the next year teaching me how little I knew about dogs, something that had, up until that point, seemed fairly simple.

Dogs are whacky. They force you to be present, and they’re unapologetically unique.

In my case, at least, I really had no choice but to put my ego aside and accept that what I thought I knew wasn’t gonna cut it. We had to learn to research, experiment and revise until we started to figure out what works for the one we’ve got.

This is a constant process, and so it’s given me fresh perspective on many other parts of my life too.

It’s highlighted how often I make assumptions, rely on old information and assume I already know best.

It’s forced me to recognise where I’ve been coasting, where I’ve stopped trying to learn new stuff, and where I’ve had blind spots I’ve never even noticed.

Needless to say, this has been good for my writing life.

It’s so easy, when you’ve been doing something a long time, to feel that there’s nothing left to learn, no surprises left to discover.

It’s almost never true, of course. Here are a few of the things I’ve noticed this year about my writing:

  • When I’m journalling, I have a habit of listing details without listing my feelings about them. This is connected to an old habit of labelling emotions without experiencing them, so I’m trying to practice slowing down and actually noticing what the details mean for me.
  • My best professional writing happens in short, frequent bursts of activity. My best private writing happens in long, leisurely windows. Planning accordingly saves me a lot of frustration and stalling.
  • Even though I love writing deeply, I will get sick of it if I’m just going over the same terrain all the time. Variety in my projects and my personal adventures is so important if I’m going to be satisfied with what comes out.
  • There are some techniques I still haven’t fully mastered. Dialogue and exposition are two things I’m working on professionally. As far as my private writing goes, it’s a constant practice to become a reliable narrator of my own life.

All this to say, that there’s always more to learn and discover. Even when you feel like you know something inside out and back to front, there’s always room to test your assumptions and come at it with fresh eyes.

What’s habitual in your writing? Where could you go a little deeper, or pull on a loose thread, or experiment with a different approach?