The Thinker, Brood, Wuhan, China, Writers Block, Princeton in Asia

Brooder’s Block

The Brood: I just spent the last four months traveling and readjusting to life in China. But the blog floundered. What brooding thoughts prevented me from writing? What even is this blog anyway?

Ever since I was born, the world of opinions has slowly, almost imperceptibly grown to take the entirety of the perceivable world.  They are shouted at the dinner table. On television. Discussed in respectful but terse tones on podcasts. Hot-Takes leap silently from Facebook and Twitter only to crash into our minds like the sound of broken glass.

In an increasingly cacophonous world, it can be easy to mistake success and meaning with sheer quantity. The world rewards persistently loud, content-producing people with the correct opinions. To be surrounded in that environment can sometimes make an aspiring writer anxious with his failure to produce. It can make hesitancy to write his current thoughts feel less prudential and more neurotic. It can turn a reluctance to write about the story-of-the-moment into a panging guilt.

Writing process, writers block, the brood, Wuhan, China, Princeton in Asia, blogging, quantity, quality
The quantity-over-quality writing process. For current events bloggers, just replace “restate main points” with “restate someone else’s opinion” and you’ve got the gist. [Source]

The last article I wrote on this blog was produced while I was in just such a neurosis. I could feel myself begin to write The Opinion that my progressive peers wanted to hear. Not because I thought I was substantively adding anything, but because I had to produce something.

Not only that, but I could also feel myself retreating into what I knew, rather than expanding into what I didn’t know: China. By December of last year, I was in over my head in culture shock. My attempts at connection had been met with results that alienated me. My struggle to improve my language skills pushed ahead in some ways and floundered in others. Seeing my co-fellow succeed in places I failed, I began to isolate myself and write, telling myself that maybe I wasn’t cut out for this after all.

Culture Shock, Writers Block, Brood, China, Wuhan, Princeton in Asia
There is no better place to eat your culture shock feelings than in China. [Source]

I didn’t like that idea, either. I was aware of how self-defeating it was. So I took a break from writing. I took a long break from China. I traveled Southeast Asia. I went home to New York to see my loved ones. By the time I came back to China, this time with wide-eyed parents in tow, I was seriously grappling with what my time in Wuhan has meant to me. What am I taking from it? What should I be bringing to it? What is the purpose of this blog, anyway? Also, who am I again? What is it that I do?

So far as I can tell best, I brood about things. That’s my skill. I think deeper about the world than most people do. It makes me a pretty thoughtful person some of the time, and unwittingly arrogant at others. It makes me a look-before-you-leap kind of person, but also someone who can be overly hesitant and over-complicating.

Bagan, Myanmar, Travel, writing, writing process, writers block, Princeton in Asia, Wuhan, China, the brood
Traveling really did wonders for my ability to reflect, and there is no better place to reflect than in Bagan, Myanmar. (My own pictures to come.) [Source]

I’m not sure what such a person does to make money and meaningfully navigate the world, but perhaps that’s the purpose of the blog. It’s to make content that tries to show how I’m imperfectly negotiating with the world around me and pushing against topics I just don’t know that much about.

Most importantly, I hope I can make this blog a platform which stress-tests The Opinion. If it goes unchallenged, even if it’s correct, it can encourage intellectual laziness. Worse, the grandstanding can become the emotionally satisfying crutch which stunts growth. In my case, it prevented me from confronting my culture shock in a constructive way. Even if it costs me quantity, I want to keep myself accountable to quality.

It turns out that in a world that values production and noise, silence and reflection still have their place. I should be more comfortable in my skin with that. I’m going to try to breathe life back into The Brood starting today. Luckily, I’ve got about 4 months of brooding to draw from.

Are you a writer or content maker? Can you sympathize with this predicament? Do you struggle with your relationship to “The Opinion”? What should I write about next? Comment and share your thoughts!
Follow to get the next brooding question post right to your email, and comment below to suggest topics for future brooding.
Written and edited by Dylan Welch, co-host and creator of the Municipals podcast.

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