What’s In My Way?

Moving away from what you know is tough. I miss my family. I miss my friends. My coping mechanism has always been writing. Last time I left home long-term, I wrote hundreds of words everyday for almost an entire year. I documented everything, to the point of inducing boredom for my readers. This time though, my big move seems to correlate with a big flop in my writing. I’m finally learning what it is to get writer’s block.

Until recently, my attitude had been somewhere along the lines of “What is this so-called writer’s block you speak of? What utter nonsense.” I’d never had a real problem writing before – whatever I had to write would just get written. But that’s all gone to pieces in the past few months.

There are all sorts of reasons for the sparsity of my recent writings, but a lack of material isn’t remotely problematic. Quite the opposite in fact. A wealth of ideas strike me at all times of day and night – I have a whole list of things waiting to be written out in full. The bizarrities of life in an unfamiliar culture have left me catatonic with over-inspiration.

I’ve been meaning to write about my students, about my first few weeks of exploring Beijing, about the wonderful people I have met so far, about how it feels to live alone for the first time, about Beijing’s crazy traffic, terrible air and frustrating issues with the internet, about Chinese sexism and sexuality, about a lack of foresight I notice all over the place… I’ve been meaning to write a review of a book I read in August, what it was like going back to school in July, a review of a show I saw in London in June… It simply hasn’t happened.

The more there is to write, the harder it gets to write a single word. It’s always the same. Until I decide to focus only on the first article on the list, I’ll get nowhere.

One big problem is the internet access in China. Everything is tougher when you can’t access the resources you’ve come to rely on. Technology becomes the antithesis of productivity. 

Last night I spent several hours simply trying to send a single email. I gave up and went to bed dispirited.

I know, I know – a bad workwoman blames her tools. I should write by hand, I could write the piece and post it online later. Yes – all that is true. But waiting an hour to log into WordPress seems like a terrible waste of time – that’s the deterrent. As a result, that long list only gets longer.

Another major issue for me is deadlines. For some people, I know deadlines are actually more of a hassle than a help. But I work best to deadlines. In fact, if there’s no deadline, I’m likely to get distracted and simply not do the work until I set a deadline myself. I’m only writing this now because I have decided that not another day of this year can go by without something getting written. (In fact, there’s no more coffee for me until this goes live, dammit!)

In my new Beijing life, I have deadlines for my work, namely the fact I have to turn up and begin teaching up to 25 students at a given time. The only other thing that comes close to deadlines are my Chinese classes – I’ve paid ahead of time for a class at a specific time every weekday in order to force myself to go on monetary grounds if nothing else. In fact, I feel more inclined to go simply because I know my teacher and classmates will know (and possibly judge me) if I don’t. I hate letting people down.

That’s the crux of it: I don’t force myself to do things for me. I force myself to do things with the incentive of “what other people think”. (There goes the devil-may-care attitude I’ve been cultivating for a decade… )

However, I know myself well enough to (subconsciously?) put myself in positions where the notion of outside judgment will force me to do what’s best for me. Day-to-day, I go to my Chinese classes for the teacher, classmates, money… but long-term I go to my Chinese classes for my future benefit.

It’s a lot easier to see the benefit if you think big… But thinking big doesn’t create good behaviours – it creates ambitions without any foundation or method with which to reach the goal.

I keep returning to a video I watched with my undergraduate students earlier this term (I can’t help thinking I’ve probably learned just as much as they have). It was Reggie Rivers on the topic: “If you want to reach your goals, don’t think about them.” At the time, I wondered about the benefit of his advice. But seeing the results of my own short-term behaviour (ie. Achieving 90 minutes of Chinese study 5 days a week by going to class vs. my inability to write because I don’t set a space-time-date deadline) I can see the truth of what he says.

I’m not going in for all that ‘new year, new me‘ stuff – I’m just trying to work out how to get back on track by starting with a fresh outlook and improving my behaviours. Got to start somewhere!

P.s. Happy New Year! 


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