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  • Alyssa Wees

Updated: Sep 18

Hello, it’s been a while. I haven’t posted in the last few weeks because I simply Did Not Feel Like It. What have I been doing instead of working very hard on a post for my blog that probably no one is going to read? (If you’re reading this please know that I appreciate you very much.) Many things, including hanging out with my cats, planning and going to a bachelorette party for my best friend who is getting married in less than one month (!), working, writing, eating ice cream as summer winds to a close, etc. Also, and perhaps most importantly, I watched the second season of Making the Cut on Amazon Prime (for those not in the know, it’s a fashion design show). I’ve always been a huge fan of Project Runway, and while I miss it and don’t think Making the Cut is quite as good (unconventional materials challenge, my beloved <3 ), I’m just happy to be back with Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn as they judge people. It was a really good season, and one of the moments that stuck out to me was when contestant Gary was second-guessing himself, berating himself, and generally struggling (as he did every single episode, before coming up with the most beautiful, brilliant design), and Tim came over and said something like, “You know, Gary, I really do not envy you this, but I think all this internal strife and creative struggle is just part of your process. Embrace it.

Those words (paraphrased, of course, because I’m too lazy to go back and find the actual quote) hit me like a brick to the face. It’s part of your process. Embrace it. Easier said than done, Tim, but it’s still a really important and valuable point. It’s like quicksand, right? The more you struggle, the more you sink. I've found that half of writing (or doing anything in life, really) is overcoming the fear and self-doubt of doing the thing, but if I can find a way to acknowledge that the anxiety is there and that it's real, it's so much easier to proceed. To work with my anxiety instead of against it. And half of getting to the part where I can work with instead of against is taking the time to acknowledge that it's there. Make space for your anxiety, otherwise you're going to feel like it's crushing you, like there's just not enough room in this town for the two of you. Pull up a chair for your anxiety; offer it a seat. It's going to be with you a while—might as well get comfortable. One thing I've learned is that I will never be rid of my anxiety entirely. I can do things to lessen it, to live with it, to ignore it temporarily, but never "overcome" it. Because in the end there's nothing to overcome. It's just part of me, like my lungs and my face. And as much as I want to be rid of it, I've found that it's pretty freeing to admit that I won't.

It's not easy. And it takes time. But Tim Gunn is right: embrace your process, even if it means making peace with the struggle. Accept that you will struggle, but know that you'll also come out the other side. Even when you don't feel like you will. The only way to do a thing is by knowing that you can. The only way out is through.

Please know that I myself haven't mastered embracing my process in the slightest. Some days I struggle and some days I don't. But hearing Tim Gunn say it was a good reminder that it is possible, and it is a good thing to do. Embrace, don't fight.

Make it work.

  • Alyssa Wees

In Season 5, Episode 11 of The Office (“The Duel”), David Wallace, the CFO of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, invites Regional Manager Michael Scott to the corporate office in New York to talk about what the Scranton Branch is doing right in the face of a difficult economic climate. All the other branches are struggling, but Michael’s unconventional managerial style is clearly working, and David would like to know exactly what he’s doing so that he can replicate it elsewhere. Michael—pleased but flustered because he thought he was being brought in to get chewed out—begins to ramble.

“David, here is it. My philosophy is basically this,” he says. “And this is something that I live by. And I always have. And I always will. Don't ever, for any reason, do anything to anyone, for any reason, ever, no matter what. No matter... where. Or who, or who you are with, or, or where you are going, or... or where you've been... ever. For any reason, whatsoever.”

Cut to a talking head where Michael confesses, “Sometimes I’ll start a sentence, and I don’t even know where it’s going. I just hope I find it along the way. Like an improv conversation. An improversation.” At the end of what is clearly an unproductive meeting, David—gracious as ever—tells Michael that it’s hard to evaluate yourself, and he appreciates Michael trying. Even though David has politely insinuated that the meeting is over and he’d like Michael to leave, they continue to eat the pasta Michael requested they order, mired in an awkward silence. This is one of my favorite scenes in the entirety of the show, and I bring it up because it pretty much perfectly encapsulates my writing process.

For me, the most dreaded part of the writing process is the beginning. A blank page, a white maw and a blinking cursor waiting for instruction. I have ideas, and I’m excited about those ideas, but...what if I can’t do it? What if the words are terrible? What if the story is garbage? It is garbage, isn’t it? I knew it, it’s never going to work, the plot is nonexistent, the characters aren’t compelling and oh, god, do I have any other ideas? Yes, but those might also be garbage. It’s just garbage all the way down.

And I still haven’t written a word.

Okay, then, I tell myself, just begin. Don’t think about it too hard. You can always start again. The only failure is the failure to try, have no fear of perfection because you will never reach it, etc, etc. But it’s hard for me not to think. Not to overthink. How do I get through this then?

Quite literally, one word at a time.

I start every novel I write with pretty much no idea where it’s going, hoping I’ll find it along the way. I never outline, and beyond maybe a few nebulous plot points, the only things I really start with are a tone and a voice and some kind of question or idea I want to explore. No thoughts, just vibes. Even characters are sketchy at best.

Is this the best way to begin? I don’t know. All I do know is that it’s worked for me in the past. I outlined an entire novel once, and when I sat down to write it I didn’t actually get very far before I got really bored. Part of the joy of writing for me is discovery—if I’ve already mapped out everything that will happen and when, there’s not much room for my imagination to wriggle in. Not that outlining is bad—it just doesn’t work for me personally. If it works for you, then great! There is no right way to write. And there’s no wrong way, either.

That's something that's always bothered me about writing advice. In college, I remember some of my professors giving hard rules like "Don't use adverbs," or "The best time to write is in the morning." First of all, I love a good adverb (there is a difference between "he whispered" and "he said softly," okay?), and I hate mornings. I'm not getting up to write when I'm grumpy and still basically asleep, like, what kind of advice is that?? My advice is, never listen to advice. Except when it's good advice. And maybe not even then. Hope this helps.

For real, though—writing advice should always be thought of as guidelines, not rules. When I was younger, like high school aged, I was ravenous for any and all advice. I would scour the websites of authors I admired looking for their thoughts on process and publishing, and a lot of it was really helpful. Just as much wasn't. I've found that the best way to go about writing is to figure out what works for you and then to keeping doing that thing (and it might change from book to book, who knows! It's okay and natural for your process to change over time). What works for me is setting a goal of one sentence per day. What works for me is forgoing an outline. What works for me is writing mostly in the evenings, but often in the afternoon or even the morning if I'm feeling up to it, depending on the day and my work schedule. What works for me is starting a sentence and hoping I find it along the way.

Maybe that sounds chaotic, and sometimes it is. Many writers (especially ones with children and other huge commitments) have a set schedule, like deciding to write between 9am and noon and they're going to write 1,000 words per day. I admire that type of hard timetable, but I just work better with a more flexible schedule, and I never give myself a word count goal because it stresses me out too much (that's why I like the goal of one sentence, because some days one sentence is all I have to give. But most days one sentence begets another sentence and another and soon I've got a page, or even a whole chapter). I used to feel bad about not having a big goal, but if it doesn't work for you, it doesn't work. Not the end of the world. As long as the words get on the page, there's no right or wrong way to do it.

Okay, now I feel as if I'm rambling Michael Scott-style. What was I talking about? Right—beginnings. Even just writing this post, I started with about five different openings. False starts are inevitable (especially if you don't outline). Sometimes it takes a while to find the story. Nothing you write is ever a waste, even if it doesn't end up in the final version. Everything you write is working toward something, even if you don't know what that something is yet.

I share all this in the hopes that if you too are beginning a new project—whether it's writing, drawing, gardening, anything really—and you feel overwhelmed before you even start, I just want you to know that you are not alone. Beginning is scary. It's hard. And some things, really, are just not meant to be. I've started so many novels that I've set aside because it's not the time for them or it's just not working and I can't figure out why. That's okay. But you'll never know if you don't try, right?

Basically, when I begin, I try to channel the completely unfounded confidence of Michael Scott. He has no idea what he's doing most of the time, but he does it anyway (often to disastrous results, but still). I'll leave you with another favorite quote of mine from "The Duel," when Michael shakes David's hand at the end of their meeting.

“I have to say, I’m so impressed with the potential you see in me.”

Let's all be impressed with our own potential. That just might be the best way to begin.

  • Alyssa Wees

When I think about the fact that the universe—not the world, the universe—will end, eventually, inevitably, I don’t feel much of anything beyond a nodding solemnity. Yes, yes, of course. That sounds exactly right. I suppose this is in part because it doesn’t matter for me personally. Whether the whole of the universe ends by a Big Crunch, a Big Rip, or vacuum decay, by all calculations it will happen so far in the future that the earth will already have been consumed by an exploded supernova sun. Humanity will already be gone (unless, of course, we find a way off this planet, a way to thrive somewhere far away from here when the sun dies). But the end of the universe will likely not affect me or you or even our grandchildren's grandchildren's grandchildren. In fact, humans are much more likely as a species to make the earth inhabitable long before the sun will, so even the sun exploding is not at all a concern compared to climate change.

Still. In the face of total and certain annihilation, it's tempting to ask whether this has all been for nothing. This being our blip-like lives on a little planet that will someday be consumed by our own sun, which will in turn be consumed by whatever doom is prescribed by some law of science that has been theorized but that we haven’t fully worked out yet (ie, Big Crunch, Big Rip, vacuum decay). So, what is our impact on the universe? As a civilization and as individuals? Does any of this matter if it’s not going to last? As long as the universe stays put, conceivably someone somewhere in billions of years could still be reading something that I wrote (or looking at a painting you painted, or listening to a song you sung. Or, simply, our descendants will still be alive and thriving). But if the universe collapses, if all trace of us vanishes—except maybe our scattered atoms—does anything we do matter in the very, very end?

I have to say yes. Yes, emphatically, because we are more than a purpose to be served. We are here to experience and to learn, to simply be, so if we’ve done that, then it doesn’t matter if the universe ends because we’ll already have done what we came to do. The idea of the end could easily fill us with dread, but is there possibly a strange sort of comfort to be found in the idea that nothing at all is permanent? This too shall pass, and it’s extremely possible that the universe is cyclical, so even the end will pass and the universe will begin again. I don't know—maybe there is some comfort in that.

But what I find sad, the thing that really scrapes close to the bone, is the possibility of the Heat Death of the universe. This is the most likely end-of-everything scenario, and it follows the Second Law of Thermodynamics, meaning it has to do with entropy, or decay (not, as the name kind of makes it sound, that the universe will end in a fiery explosion of heat , but that there will be a complete lack of heat, the universe eventually reaching the temperature of absolute zero). The universe is expanding, and someday the space between all objects with mass will be so large that there can be no interaction between them. No gas to fuel new stars; no dead stellar remnants to grow black holes. The skies will go dark, and every galaxy will die isolated and alone. The universe reaches maximum entropy, with absolutely no available energy to exchange, and…that’s it. It’s done. Nothing new can form.

Just the thought makes me feel cold and panicky. No new stars, no new planets, no new life. It will all just stall, game over forever. That's why, when I mourn for the universe, it is not because it must end. It is because there will someday be so much space between everything that nothing anymore can be reached.

But remember—that's a long way off. In the meantime, let's make art. Let's not drift apart.

We always talk about the beginning of the universe—the Big Bang—but what about the end of it? Recently I read the End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking) by Katie Mack, a nonfiction book written by an astrophysicist about all the possible ways the universe could end. It’s full of humor and unabashed nerdy exuberance about science, and though some of it was a bit hard to follow (in general, outer space stuff is just hard to wrap the mind around sometimes), it was overall very accessible and a short, well-written read. I highly recommend this for anyone interested in the cosmos, and especially in the study of the end of everything.


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