he cool thing about traveling often is that I can easily enter a plane in winter and get off in summer. What a beautiful concept — Chasing summer around the world. This time, I have landed in the bright sun of Miami Beach. Laying down there on the warm sand, with the music of the waves pleasing my thoughts, I realize how crucial traveling is for my writing. It takes me away from life routine and launches into a new world, populated by alien people who walk on unfamiliar streets.
Take for instance The Cafe at Books&Books, the old-style bookshop on Lincoln Road in South Beach. It is the kind of bookshop, where the bookseller writes mini-reviews for you to choose the book that suits you better. On weekends the silence of a typical bookshop is broken by the chatter of the customers who sit and drink at the tables on Lincoln Road.
What an ideal setting to open a notebook and write!
Oh man, I love writing while traveling around. It shakes my stories up in unpredictable ways.
I have recently submitted my second manuscript and to distract me from the anxiety of waiting for the outcome, what better way than starting a new novel?
The idea for this new story came to me a few years ago. Although I have been thinking about the details — The main character, the setting, the plot — for quite a long time, when I first faced the blank page, inside a sort of gaseous excitement, I felt a disturbing discomfort.
This is not new to me. It happens. Blank page — Excitement and discomfort.
Where does it come from?
During the years I have come to believe that the unwritten novel stored in my head will certainly lose its illusory perfection the instant I put the pen on that blank page.
Just before writing, in that magic instant, lies the perfection of potentiality.
Unfortunately, there is no escape: When the novel unfolds word by word on the blank page, its potential perfection dissolves like the smooth scent of a bouquet of roses.
Feeling discomfort in front of the blank page then is the classic fear of failing, of not being good enough, of the unknown.
And that is why I have learned to take advantage of that fear and use it as the northern star of my writing.
We want to have a car — A cool car — to go to work. And to get there, we take the same route every day. On Wednesday we go to the cinema and shopping on Saturday. Every purchase is driven by the need of getting more comfortable. In the meantime, we constantly look for the right person to form a stable relationship, which will supposedly give us an everlasting happiness — The forever love of our lives.
We want comfort because comfort means happiness. This is the illusion that poisons our very existence.
I believe that comfort is totally overrated; Comfort is not a path to happiness. In fact, it transforms our inner sun into a 40-Watt light bulb.
Comfort creates concentric walls around us that — True — will protect us, but will also prevent us from enjoying a full and deep life; From experiencing the scary totality of the Unknown.
The thing is — It is outside those concentric walls, in that scary unknown, that the potential for your best writing hides.
After my first novel Zagreb, I was about to write another book about war.
I started with the usual “Charlie Parker” method: Write, research, research, research, and write. A few weeks into writing, I had realized that all my efforts were driven by comfort and safety. I had chosen that topic because I was familiar with the setting; because it felt comfortable. I was moving away from the fear of the unknown.
So, what did I do?
I chose another project — A project that scared me to death.
A novel that emerges from weaving together the vicissitudes of nine characters, full with the success, love, failure that I have experienced in my ten years in Berlin. A novel about suicide and death, art and beauty.
One of the most difficult thing that I have ever written.
And guess what — It is beautiful.
If there is no struggle in your writing, you are not pushing hard enough.
You are not aiming high enough. You are not exploring, not penetrating your inner self. You are not breaking those concentric walls that protect you from the scary totality of the Unknown.
If you do break them, rest assured that you will feel discomfort, perhaps pain, certainly some kind of fear.
Follow those feelings. Dive into those dangerous waters and immerse yourself in that painful fluid. Write straight into it. Learn to swim while drowning. Write towards what seems scarily impossible. Write the words that make your hands tremble, your heart shake, and your soul quiver.
Be brave, because it is in the pain and struggle, in that scary unknown that the magic of writing is to be found.
All photos were taken during my trip to Miami.
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