Following Trouble

Writers cultivate trouble. Without trouble we’d have nothing to write about. If we write fiction, we sit at our desk and imagine the most interesting trouble our beloved hero or heroine can get into. Who will threaten their life? What do they depend on that will be taken from them? And how despondent and hopeless will they become as the trouble mounts? How will they doubt themselves and how will they find themselves through this doubt? And if we write about our own life, we begin where there was trouble. We cannot write about one sunny day after the other. If we write about our own lives, we are drawn to the darkness as a flower bends to the sun. When did it seem we had nothing? When did it appear that life was conspiring against us? When did we feel at our smallest, lowest, and least creative? Those are the moments calling for our writer’s attention.

Trouble is addictive in this way. My writer’s attention, which is just my creative attention, is always active, whether I am at my desk or making lunch. It reminds me of a child, freed from the obligation of chores and school, seeking the best game for his eager energy. How much happier that child is when the game requires all his energy. My creative attention is always searching for something to do, something calling for its eager, curious energy. It’s why I am often so happy when I write. Here is the best game of all for that attention, a blank page to be filled with whatever interests me most.

But when I am away from the desk, it easy to cast my adult eyes about for trouble. If there’s trouble, that means there’s a problem, and problems require my full creative attention if they are going to be fixed. After all, the pages of life appear full, and so this question of what interests me most seems obsolete. All that’s left to do is edit. How do I fix this story called life so that it pleases me? Where’s that problem that stands between me and that contended, effortless feeling I’ve known when I’ve reread a story and understood it was done?

If I don’t see a problem at first, I needn’t worry. I’ll see one soon enough. Other people, for instance, are always doing things I think they shouldn’t be doing. That’s a problem. The past is a problem sometimes. If only I could go back and un-say what I said, or un-do what I did. And of course, nothing’s a bigger problem than the future. Why, anything at all could happen there. How do I build a fort of the present to protect myself against the assaults of the future?

This game is not nearly as much fun as the writing game. Yes, these problems can draw my full attention, and yes, it seems that waiting somewhere at the end of this game of problem solving is some semblance of happiness, that end-of-story satisfaction – but that satisfaction, that happiness never materializes. In its place is always the next problem. Because the blank page of my life is always asking the same question, and the only trouble I ever really know is when I choose not to answer it. As soon as I do, whether at the desk or the dinner table, my creative attention has found its direction, and I will have no problem following it.


Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion.

"A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.

You can find William at:

Follow wdbk on Twitter