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There is an emptiness that creeps into you when a major project is completed. Because you define your life by work, accomplishment, and completion. When you’re not working on a novel or a history project or some other creative exploit, when you’re only working the day job, you find yourself questioning your identity.

You call this The Big Empty.

And this is how you fill it: with doubt, self-hatred, redoubled efforts to promote, brainstorming projects, revising old ones, bugging your agent, reading other people’s success stories, gaming a strategy for the future, checking in with friends in similar circumstances.

Some of these are bad. Some good. Others, meh. But you are old enough to know that there is no precious time in your life where only good things thrive. In fact, most of life is riddled in decay and failure as much as success. Everything at all times is a dance of emotional highs and lows. How we react to them, so say the Buddhist, Stoics, and others, is where we have a modicum of control.

You remind yourself of this because the Big Empty is here. And the biggest waste in this space is one word.


Whatever success you’ve had is matched by a negative. Got a book out? The sales suck. Good sales? Where’s the next major deal? Good deal? Shouldn’t you be working on improving your dayjobbery?

There is no good in your life that can fill the Big Empty. Because it is bottomless.

Beside the Big Empty is a laptop and a good chair (though not a great one). On your screen is the infinite horizon called Next.

You create a constellation. Novels. History books. Short stories. Each is a black star against the infinite white.

With the Big Empty at your back, you map what’s next against the infinite to see what fucking shape will emerge.

And the Big Empty starts to shrink.

Jason S. Ridler

Jason RidlerJason S. Ridler is a writer, historian, and actor. He is the author of The Brimstone Files, and his latest historical work Mavericks of War was called a “visceral read that is also an important piece of scholarship” by Pulitzer-Prize winner Richard Rhodes. He is a Teaching Fellow at Johns Hopkins University and teaches creative writing at Google, Youtube, and for private clients.

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