The Link between Kierkegaard, Javascript, and How Writers Learn to Write

Hands and EyesI have a very good friend who is 83 years old. We hang out together on Saturday mornings mostly, and talk about politics and history while he tells me various stories from his long and colorful life. Usually when I tell people the age of my friend they assume he has trouble getting around, or that maybe he’s in a wheelchair or has difficulty remembering details. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Every Saturday morning that I visit with my friend we walk three miles while we talk, and then he usually has to be off to another event. He’s involved in local city politics, history study groups, and the movement for mental health awareness. On top of that he takes regular Pilates and aerobics classes. This man can lift way more than I can, and he packs more into one day than I do in a whole week. I’ve known him for years so I’ve been able to observe his secret to long life and good health.

This man is not afraid to learn new skills. In fact, he embraces the process.

I’ve decided to emulate him this week by jumping into two areas of knowledge that I have NO previous experience in just to see what happens. I picked learning about Christian Existentialism (through reading Søren Kierkegaard and Gabriel Marcel) and learning Javascript, the programming language.

The results were interesting.

I discovered that the hardest part was getting started. I was afraid to crack open the book, afraid to load up the Youtube video tutorial. What if I didn’t understand any of it?  I worried, and then realized this was a weird thing to be worried about. Of course I wouldn’t understand any of it, not at first. So if that was the case, why was all this anxiety cropping up about it? Well, I finally realized, my real fear was that I didn’t want to feel stupid. And my inner critical voice was whispering at the back of my mind that when someone doesn’t understand something, that clearly means they’re stupid. Especially if it was me. My inner critical voice was convinced that if I read the first two pages of Kierkegaard or watched the first two minutes of a Javascript video and didn’t get it, it would finally have irrefutable proof that I am, in fact, stupid.

That  was interesting to see play out in my head. And a little embarrassing.

So I did it. I cracked the book. I started watching the video. And my fears partly came true. I had no idea what was going on. But…I wasn’t stupid. I knew my 83-year-old friend would have kept at it if he was in my place. So, that’s what I did. I just kept plugging away. The whole time I felt like I was flailing, confused, disoriented, unsure, and very definitely puzzled. A few times I even felt like I really must be stupid. But I got through it. And at the end of the first chapter I felt like I was maybe possibly  beginning to see what Kierkegaard was talking about. I did know for sure that I liked his writing style and wanted to read more. And by the time I reached the end of the Javascript video it was the same thing. I sort of, just kind of, was starting to get it. I saw the dim pieces of the puzzle glowing faintly in my brain, and even though I didn’t know how to put it together yet, I felt like it was a possibility I could definitely achieve in the future.

What was really brilliant was the way I felt in the days after  these experiences. It was like I had these little bursts of jet fuel powering me during the day. I would think about Kierkegaard or Javascript and how I was starting to get it  with both of them and I would get happy. I stood taller. I gave myself an inner high-five. I realized, I was damn proud of myself…and  I was excited to pursue each topic even more.

This whole experience brought so many memories flooding back to me. Ten years ago I was just starting to write, to really  write. It was in 2006 that I started writing my first novel and made writing an important enough priority that I was devoting time to it every week. I felt the same exact way about writing at that time that I did about Kierkegaard and Javascript. It was something I wanted to do, but those first attempts at sitting down and actually doing it—well, I felt like I was just flailing. And honestly, beginning to write that first book was WAY harder than Kierkegaard or Javascript. I doubted myself at every single twist and turn  in the journey. I wanted to give up so many times. I actually cried over it, it was that painful.

But then something happened. The same something that happened with Kierkegaard and Javascript. I kept plugging away at it and then one day there was a flash and I realized it wasn’t as hard as it had been. I was getting it, slow but sure. I was learning how to write, how to navigate my way through the treacherous beautiful ocean of my first book.

Every writer goes through this. The first few books you write are all about learning, and then after that you start to actually master the craft. It’s normal to feel impatient with the process and to want to be a master right out of the gate, to skip all the messy mistakes and wrong turns. But, as my 83-year-old friend has taught me, the messiness of life and the pleasure of learning are what bring true joy into our existence.

So keep plugging away at it. You’re getting it, you really are. And if you feel like you’re just flailing know that this is the real irrefutable proof—you are exactly where you need to be on your writing path.

If you’re interested in learning more about my brilliant 83-year-old friend, his name is Fred J. Martin, Jr. and he’s an indie writer who authored a book on his idol, Abraham Lincoln. You can visit his website here. I bet you anything his About Page will blow your mind and inspire you to be your best self this week.

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4 Comments

  • Reply Jeff C 9 March, 2016 at 3:17 pm

    Another great piece, Lauren. My favorite lines are:

    “I was getting it, slow but sure. I was learning how to write, how to navigate my way through the treacherous beautiful ocean of my first book.

    “But, as my 83-year-old friend has taught me, the messiness of life and the pleasure of learning are what bring true joy into our existence.”

    What’s weird, to me, is that my friend who introduced me to you is to me as you are to her as this man is to you. Or, put another way: she inspires me to do more and be more and says that you inspire her to do more and be more and this man inspires YOU to be more and do more. Who inspires him?

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 10 March, 2016 at 10:29 am

      I would have loved to have met the man who inspired Fred! I feel that I can speak for Fred and say it’s almost definitely his father. 🙂

  • Reply Hannah Vanderpool 10 March, 2016 at 8:38 am

    I loved this! Good on you for not letting fear stop you. As for me, I’m plugging away at writing, learning to speak Spanish, and preparing for a trip to South America with my husband in early April. Onward!

  • Reply Katarina 14 March, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    This is awesome! Thanks (to both you and Fred) for the inspiration.

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