Why Finding Meaning is Not Going to Help Your Writing

by | May 13, 2021 | Uncategorized

What do you value most in life?

Throw a digital pebble, and you’ll hit thousands of writers who say, “money isn’t everything,” “relationships are hard,” and “you get bored of travel and dopamine highs eventually.”

So, is life about spirituality? Well, sort of.

Many will tell you that life is about finding meaning. They even claim this meaning helps you improve your writing.

Here’s why that’s simply not true:

1. You’ll Find Yourself Writing About the Same Things Over and Over

Writers often say to “go and live your life so you can fill up that idea well.” That way, you’ll return to writing with a renewed sense of purpose and new ideas to share with your audience.

That’s true, at least to the extent that new experiences, realizations, and breakthroughs can cause you to look at people, events, and circumstances in new ways.

But if you try to find meaning in your new experiences, you will automatically rely on old experiences, realizations, and breakthroughs to interpret the new ones. That’s what it means to “find meaning.” It’s all about attaching your own meaning to what has already happened, when what happened fundamentally does not mean one thing or the other.

From that space, the only thing you can do is talk about old things in a new way or new things in an old way.

Wouldn’t you love to share about new things in a new way? Don’t your readers deserve it?

If you’re busy “finding meaning,” or adding meaning to every experience, it will always be from a past reference point. Congratulations, you’ve found a way to talk about new things in an old way.

The real trick is to disappear meaning. Then you’ll be able to share about new things in a new way.

Getting too comfortable in our identities leaves us unable to change our opinion, expand our worlds, or transform.

2. Your World Will Only Shrink

What happens when you assume and presume to know all there is to know about your own experience?

To be fair, you are the most qualified person to tell your story.

That said, your story can mean anything you want it to mean. And this is what most writers don’t realize.

My father died when I was 13. That is a true story. The impact of my father’s death was far reaching, and early adulthood was a struggle, in terms of identity, relationships, vocation, finances, and more.

Ah, but is that part true? Or am I just using dramatic language to draw you in? Maybe I have a specific intent in tugging at your emotions. Maybe I want to sell you something, get your attention, or for you to feel sorry for me.

Sounds manipulative, but we must realize we do this in our writing and storytelling all the time! Which is fine if you’re a marketer.

But I could tell that story about my father in an entirely different way, and it wouldn’t be any less true. Let me show you.

My father passed when I was 13. But in that moment, I realized that life could end at any moment and I didn’t want to waste another minute. I went onto start my own music career, build an online business, and write five books, three of which became best-sellers. What my father instilled in me was a sense of discipline and worth ethic. And I will forever treasure that.

This version is also true. I have not told a lie.

And there are many other versions worth exploring…

The point is that if you can’t see both sides of the coin, you’re only ever going to be explaining one side of it. And your view of the world will only continue to narrow, as you keep referring to the same circumstances and events in an increasingly limited way, out of complacency and laziness. How else would you explain it when you’re unwilling to look at old circumstances in a new way?

3. You Won’t Have Breakthroughs

Everybody says you’ve got to persist. Do something every day to work towards your goals. Goals are built on small daily actions. So on and so forth…

It all sounds good in theory.

But if this is our attitude towards writing and life, then is breakthrough even available?

We might see the occasional windfall, but generally, there is no breakthrough in doing the same things the same way expecting different results. This should not be called insanity, but rather, incremental progress.

There is nothing wrong with incremental progress, or for that matter, being disciplined and dedicated to your craft.

But life is the meaning we attach to it. So, if we keep repeating to ourselves that goals are hard, they take time, they require dedication and sacrifice, is it any wonder that’s exactly what we should experience?

Breakthroughs don’t come from what you already know. They don’t come from what you know that you don’t know either (e.g., I know that I don’t know how to speak German). Breakthroughs come from the vast, nearly unlimited space of what you don’t know that you don’t know. Especially since you don’t even have access to it!

To get access to what you don’t know that you don’t know, you must be able to drop all the meaning you have accumulated around a person, event, or circumstance, and begin to look at it away from your default, status quo listening of it. Only then can you see it anew.

Meaning is exactly what’s been getting in the way of you writing breakthrough material.

Final Thoughts

Once you’ve learned how to drop meaning, you will eventually gain a new skill – the ability to play with meaning.

And a writer who can play with meaning is a masterful writer. They will gain access to a whole world of creative wells never noticed before.

They won’t just be more open minded. They will become better communicators, persuaders, and marketers. They will create the kind of stories people want to read and share with others.

Ah, but why bother with that? Why challenge yourself? Seems like too much work. Just stick to your meaning. It’s working for you.

(That was me playing with meaning.)

For more inspiration, be sure to sign up for my email list.