So you’ve decided you like writing, or maybe you’ve always known since a young age that you would be a writer. Everybody has different ideas of what it means to be a writer. For some it includes buying a Moleskine and spending a lot of money at a coffee shop, maybe even working at said coffee shop. For others it’s travelling the world, soaking up as much culture as you can milk out of your last 100 dollars.
But unfortunately for most all of us, being a writer means you have one job: to write. I say unfortunately because as fun and rewarding as writing good things can be, writing is by and large a pain in the ass.
You have to do research, you have to ask people what they think about your ideas, you have to talk about your emotions, and you have to start to recognize that you have emotions in the first place. You have to pretend, and imagine yourself as other people down to the closest detail. You have to document user personas, keep in mind marketing demographics, fact-check, backtrack, edit, and reconcile.
Personally, I hate writing. I hate the pressure I feel to constantly log any relatively good idea I come up with on the train when I just want to zone out and stare at ads. I hate feeling guilty when I choose to go outside on Saturdays to play soccer instead of dicking around in my room, pacing back and forth arguing with myself over some phrasing.
In other stupid ways writing ruins my life. On bad days I don’t talk unless I think what I am about to say makes perfect sense. I correct my own grammar while I’m speaking. I judge people by the words they use. I judge people in general.
So here’s an outline on how to keep the dark side of writing at bay:
Know Why You Write –
Clear writing is closely tied to having a clear sense of purpose. It takes a lot of motivation to sit down for hours at a time and pump out something that few people will likely read. These days there is just too much content to reasonably assume you will amass an audience without a shit-ton of work. A lot of the time I have no idea why I write, but I find writing the most enjoyable when I can get really emotional with it. When I feel I’ve fully expressed my inner feelings.
Thing is, while I am an emotional person, I rarely have the kind of extraordinarily powerful emotions that I feel make for my best writing. So usually I write to refine my fundamentals so that when the time comes I can accurately express myself. Even if that time is only once a year. Having that long-term goal in mind keeps me focused. Usually.
Realize that Writing is More than Just Writing –
If you aren’t out there living your life you will have nothing to go on, and nothing good to write about. So when the day comes that you choose to go to a BBQ instead of writing your daily poem, and even when those days come for months at a time and you haven’t written anything in forever, it can help to remember: that is part of the process. I like to think of writing as something of a menstrual cycle, something that my body just needs to do in periods.
Realize That Writing is Just Writing –
Not everything you write has to be perfect. The constant pursuit of the perfect word for every sentence can make even the sloppiest writers into perfectionists, and thus incapable of actually putting anything to paper. This is writer’s block. This is when you need to put your head down (literally) and just write whatever dumb shit comes to mind. And this is when writing can be the most cathartic; when you start off with little to no idea what you are going to say.
Steer Clear of the ‘Writer’ Label –
Don’t label yourself as a writer too soon, or ever really. As soon as writing becomes more of a lifestyle than a practice, you are no longer a writer and are thus living a lie. You are only a writer when you are writing, otherwise you are a reader, a cooker, a walker, a laundry-doer, a sleeper. If you tie yourself to the label it becomes way too easy to make excuses for not writing. Your thinking goes into something along the lines of “well I’ve been published, I’m successful, and so I don’t need to try as hard anymore.” You can’t let yourself become complacent. Satisfaction is subtle, and it can ruin whatever you have to offer. Your Warby Parkers don’t mean you have good ideas. Believe me, I bought some.
Maintain Writing as a Process, Like Meditation –
Every time you decide to start writing, and actually start writing realize that everything you wrote before and will write in the future is totally irrelevant. Enter the piece as an experience that you have to explore. Every time you sit down to write you are again a student of writing, and not any kind of champion who previously conquered the method of putting ideas down to rest. Get in the zone and find out what else is in that zone.
As you can see, and as you probably already know, writing and being a “writer” is full of annoying paradoxes. Such is life. Now if you’ll excuse me I need to buy a new Moleskine and some coffee.
photo credit: Lehre vom Lernen via photopin (license)