When we left the city, the sun was shining.
But it gets dark early this time of year and there are no streetlights on country highways. By early evening, the darkness is like a heavy blanket that shrouds everything.
A surprise snow squall swept in. Anything the headlights were doing to guide us was stripped away. All we could see was snow and it was coming down so fast, the road vanished into white.
Our world had no contours, no markings, no edges … there was nothing.
It was terrifying.
If we hadn’t known the area and the direction home, we would’ve been lost.
We couldn’t see anything, but we still had clarity. How could that be?
Getting Clear About Clarity
There’s the day-to-day vision that helps you read street signs and stop when the light turns red. And then there’s the vision of your internal compass; the one that helps you identify north from south no matter where you are or what you see (or don’t see) in front of you.
That internal compass is your true vision. And when it’s magnetically strong, it will always be there to guide you.
Why Clarity Is Important
“Clarity is the most important thing. If you are not clear, nothing is going to happen. You have to be clear. Then you have to be confident about your vision. And after that, you just have to put a lot of work in.” ~ Diane Von Furstenberg
If you doubt that you have clarity, no matter where you are in your work, take a step back and try to find it.
When it’s all sunshine and blue skies, the road will lie before you and it’ll be clear sailing. But, if you don’t know where you’re going, unexpected squalls could put you in a ditch.
Am I suggesting that you have a detailed map of your every step going forward?
What I am saying is that you absolutely must have a vision, the beacon I mentioned in the first post of this series. One that will help you maintain your course no matter what surprises come your way.
Imagine if Bilbo Baggins hadn’t had clarity … or Luke Skywalker. They couldn’t always see their beacon … but they never lost sight of it.
Bottom line: A true quest cannot exist without clarity.
And your quest, should you choose to accept it, is a writing life.
Clarity = Naming Your Beacon
If you haven’t named it, it’s time.
That dream that you’ve never completely lost, even when your life went in a completely different direction.
Through jobs, marriage(s), divorce(s), child(ren), illness(es) … what ever road your life has traveled up until now, your beacon remains steadfast. Even if it’s been reduced to the tiniest of flickers—it’s still there.
Do you see it? If you do, write it down.
This is the exercise I left you with in my last post, but now I’m going to elaborate.
I don’t want this to seem like another boring exercise, like the ones teachers assign on the first day back to school. We’re writers. Writing is what we do, so what better way to stoke the flame of your burning desire than to write it down?
What if you don’t see it?
I don’t know how many times I read or heard advice about writing down or meditating on my “burning desire”, my “beacon”, my “north star”, my “dream” —what ever name you want to give it—only to feel frustrated.
For a while there, I just couldn’t see it and I thought something was wrong with me.
You have one
Don’t doubt it for a minute.
If you’re here, reading this, then you already know it. It’s just that, sometimes, our thinking brain doesn’t know when to get out of the way.
And why should it, unless we give it a helping hand? It’s been there for a long time, helping us deal with the demands of life in our first act. Myself, I can say with absolute certainty, that if it hadn’t been for my thinking brain I wouldn’t be here now, writing in my second act.
But, there are habits of mind firmly entrenched during our first act that need a little loosening up. That’s one of the things that makes starting a writing life in your second act particularly challenging, though not any less possible.
It’s just that, chances are, your creative engine may be a little rusty.
So start taking it out and let it play: write what no one will read; dance while no one is watching; sing when no one is listening; and stare out the window with a dream in your sights.
Your thinking brain will step back. It’ll have no choice.
Just to warn you: once that happens, you may find yourself overwhelmed.
Suddenly, there are all sorts of things you want to do, on top of all the things you still need to do.
For me, it’s that endless list of writing projects: short stories, essays, novels, memoir … along with the ever-present practical matters that will never go away (household, family, self care, etc.). My creative brain seizes up pretty quickly if I let it all swirl around me at the same time.
It’s the snow squall that strikes on a dark road.
The perfect conditions for getting lost.
Bilbo Baggins longed for the food and safety of the Shire. Luke Skywalker was all about his family farm. In fact, in the beginning, they were both pretty reluctant heroes. But, their beacons … their calling … their burning desire … could not be ignored.
As heroes of our own journeys, we need that one true desire that calls out to us.
How to Find Clarity
“What I find amazing and powerful about being a writer is if you have a goal, you can write your way there. Work hard, polish your writing up, keep sending it out there, and it will take you places.” ~ Carol Tice, Make a Living Writing
First, I’m going to assume your overarching desire is to be a writer … considering the focus of this website … but if it isn’t, please do replace “writing” with your creative desire and this will still work.
Put “writing” at the top of the page.
Now drill down a little more. What do you want to write?
As I mentioned above, I have a long list of “whats”. If you do too, that’s okay. Take it step by step.
With your list in hand, drill down again. Choose one.
Does that sound too simple? That’s because it is … and you can have a little fun with it too.
Date your Choice
This will help you overcome any reluctance to choose.
Don’t over-commit. Don’t tell yourself that you have to be exclusive and lose your other prospects. Sometimes that’s what holds us back—the feeling that, if we choose one thing, we could make the wrong choice or worse, lose the option to pursue others.
Just start writing.
Write about it for one hour a day for a week. That’s only seven hours in total. Do things like the fantasy exercise I describe next, or just start writing it.
At the end of one week, make a decision and if it’s not “the one”, try again.
Enjoy the Fantasy
The one you will choose is the one that sends you into the throws of fantasy land. It’s the one that, if someone said you couldn’t do it, your heart would sink.
You are in love.
Imagine it as a bestseller. You’ll be known for this work for the rest of your writing career, but that’s okay because you’re thrilled to talk about it. It’s the best of who you are as a writer. When the media hounds you for interviews, your pride and excitement will grow. When you see how your work has impacted others, you’ll be filled with gratitude.
Keep the fantasy going. Are you the next Elizabeth Gilbert? J.K. Rowling? Cheryl Strayed? E.L. James? Stephen King? Wayne Dyer?
Oprah calls. Now you’ve arrived. What is the story you want Oprah to read and share with the world?
By the time you’ve envisioned your meeting with Oprah, I hope you’re heart is beating faster and your energy is sparking.
There’s nothing quite like the fantasy when you really know your big goal, so take your time … but not too much time … and nail it.
When you do, more fun and adventure awaits. But first, it’s time to go shopping. (Even Luke Skywalker did this … really … so stay tuned for the next post in this series!)
In the meantime, over to you …
Have you ever struggled to find clarity?
Do you still struggle? What do you think is holding you back? What would help?