In this blog, I will explore my feelings and thoughts when it comes to an area of expertise I have developed: writing about values and wisdom. I have experienced ups and downs, successes and failures, challenges and triumphs in the last 30 years since high school, and especially in the last 14 since I founded Values of the Wise. Perhaps herein you will find something that encourages you to emulate (or avoid) my process. It wasn’t until about 15 months ago (since I began blogging) that I began thinking of myself as an artist. It’s a good feeling, but a bit of a burden, too.
I suppose first and foremost there is the fact that one has to be taught well to read and to write. Clearly, one’s intelligence plays a critical factor in writing, as well as how developed (vs. stunted or unremarkable) one’s brain is. Some people simply have better right-brain/left-brain integration. Sociopaths, incidentally, can’t do many of the same things normal individuals can; their brains simply aren’t developed correctly. So, in this nature/nurture calculus, getting lucky is a good thing.
Then comes the study. It has been theorized that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert. There are a few virtuosos out there when it comes to creative writing, but they are about as rare as a Mozart or Hawking. Mostly, in my estimation, writing about values and wisdom successfully takes practice, effort, and the resultant brain development. As you may know, use of the brain results in greater neuronal connections for that particular activity. It’s why champion decathletes and pianists can perform so effortlessly. They may have some significant native preparedness or capacity, but they practice, practice, practice.
Knowing how to type without dedicating much RAM space to the activity helps, of course.
Writing about values and wisdom can be difficult for me because I kind of reinvented the wheel. True, I read voraciously, but often I read in some area that could be considered very distal to my specific niche. The breadth of my readings over the last couple decades would impress you. But such an eclectic and self-taught approach has its disadvantages. It’s the reason why professional writers and educators with advanced training (e.g., a Ph.D.) are trained very specifically by academic departments and must pass numerous tests and assessments. No one gets through without adopting the methods and culture of the field. I don’t have the advantage or disadvantage such inculcation entails.
My mental health also makes writing about values and wisdom, ethics and personal growth, somewhat difficult. My “depression” (for lack of a more precise word) means that sometimes I just can’t write. It’s not “writer’s block,” it’s being too foggy and dulled and unmotivated to write anything. Sometimes all I can do is sit and watch TV. I’m thoroughly addicted to exercise, fish oil, and psychotropic medication. I’m not complaining exactly; some people have it much tougher than I do. However, it is fair to say that sometimes I couldn’t write anything insightful or informative or relatable in the least. I avoid those times because why beat my head against a wall (and I don’t have a boss).
Other methods of pushing back against my propensity to stare at a wall instead of feeling the energy and desire to do something more creative, passionate, and significant is music. I pick what works for me, and often will feel a bit enlivened and then begin to write. Or, alternatively, I will play certain songs while writing. One has to develop ways of finding meaning and inspiration for their writing. I suppose for some folks it would be getting out there and interviewing people, or reading a great book, or talking with other writers. I tend to find reading news stories, opinion pieces, and listening to music to be inspirational. In writing about values and wisdom I kind of straddle the divide between fiction and non-fiction, science and art, and inspiration and information. Different writers will have different foci, challenges, and methods of engaging creativity.
Quotations are my jam, as Key & Peele might say. When I read something like:
I just saw my grandmother, probably for the last time. She’s not sick or anything, she just bores the hell out of me.
or, Justice without force is powerless; force without justice is tyrannical.
or, …it was as though a ray of hope and faith flooded into my heart, and all the darkness of doubt was suddenly dispelled.
…I get mentally excited. It gives me a little squirt of serotonin to read something so funny or insightful or rich. It’s even greater when the quote is old or from someone who suffered or who triumphed. Think about how valuable the words uttered by the first person on the moon or someone who hiked to the top of Mt. Everest or who just gave birth are, especially compared to the drivel that comes out of many young and/or stupid peoples’ mouths. It’s Anne Frank vs. this nonsense by Dennis Rodman.
As well, one of the great parts about writing about values and wisdom (and every other topic, too) is that you get a dopamine squirt when you write something deep, adroit, apt, unique, snazzy, or compelling. And when you’re done, if you can say “That was a great piece” then you will certainly feel the dopamine. The neurotransmitter is basically the neurochemical basis for feelings of accomplishment, novelty, success, fulfillment, and reward. Try to line those experiences up for yourself one after another and you’ll keep your brain engaged. The Muse is really serotonin. Ω
Jason Merchey founded Values of the Wise in 2004, a few years after earning a master’s degree in psychology. He placed the website onto a WordPress platform 15 months ago, and just celebrated his 400th post – blogs, poems, and podcasts. He is the editor or author of six books on values, wisdom, ethics, and personal growth, three of which can be seen HERE. The endorsement he is proudest of is from that of the late, great historian, civil rights activist, and author, professor Howard Zinn:
“The Values of the Wise Series is a treasury of ideas, thoughts, & feelings that represent the best of humane ideals. I hope it will be widely read because it could be a wonderful influence on the thinking and behavior of us all.”