Part of you thinks that you just need to get organized. If you only knew where that one outline was, you’d be able to make a little progress. Sure, you found an outline in an old folder, but you’re pretty sure that’s not the most up-to-date version. What you need is a better system for keeping track of all your files. For that, you’re going to need a new external hard drive. So the first step to completing that writing project is researching hard drives. Then you’re going to get on top of your writing system once and for all.
Every blocked writer is a chef too tidy to cook.
You can’t succeed if you haven’t decided what you intend to accomplish. More important, you can’t fail. You can enjoy all the satisfaction of completing a dozen tasks a day without making any progress toward a single goal. It’s possible to know exactly where all your ideas are located and have your workspace stowed just so and still get no writing done. Paradoxically, you can even write plenty of words and still get no closer to writing what you want to write. I once put 50,000 words in a row for NaNoWriMo without getting one line closer to completing a novel. Or even a story.
Previously, I’ve written about dōmgeorne, what Martha Graham called being “doom eager.” Doom here not in the sense of the classic video game or the Fantastic Four villain but destiny. Fate. To become the writer you want to be, you have to go right up to that vision of yourself at the diner and proclaim: “I’m your density. I mean, your destiny.” You have to make this proclamation even though that vision of yourself isn’t real. You’re making it up. It feels so weird because you’re talking to an empty booth.
Getting all your ideas neatly organized in Evernote won’t do this. Making a detailed writing timeline won’t do this. Taking a writing course won’t do this. Only choosing to do this will do this. As simple as it sounds, I’ve known many intelligent and talented people who remain stuck here. The people I know who have fulfilled their writing destinies did it only because they chose those destinies. They set their doom on their own horizon.
“Ultimately,” Victor Frankl wrote, “man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked.” The Fates—Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos—have always only ever been in our heads. No one will ever give you a destiny. You have to be willing to envision it, choose it. Ironically, though we resist this commitment precisely because of how powerful it is, we will always point to its pointlessness: “I don’t need to set a goal because goals don’t work. I’m pretty sure I read that somewhere.”
A man may desire to go to Mecca. His conscience tells him that he ought to go to Mecca. He fares forth, either by aid of Cook’s, or unassisted; he may probably never reach Mecca; he may drown before he gets to Port Said; he may perish ingloriously on the coast of the Red Sea; his desire may remain eternally frustrate. Unfulfilled aspiration may always trouble him. But he will not be tormented in the same way as the man who, desiring to reach Mecca, and harried by the desire to reach Mecca, never leaves Brixton.
This is Arnold Bennett in How to Live on 24 Hours a Day, a book published in 1908 that Bennett might easily have written yesterday, were he extremely old. All he’d have to do to update it is prepend “online” to archaisms like “newspaper” and “Reddit” to archaisms like “stock exchange.” Unlike today’s productivity gurus, Bennett was prolific outside of productivity. He wrote 34 novels, seven volumes of short stories, 13 plays, and his journals ran to a million words or so, among many other accomplishments.
No one tapped Bennett on the shoulder. No one told him he was destined to write a single novel, let alone 34. As he makes clear in How to Live, Bennett chose this destiny for himself precisely in order to give his life meaning.
In the end, Scotland’s Princess Merida put it best when she said, “Our fate lives within us. You only have to be brave enough to see it.“