Thoughts From A Few Months Of Writing
This story began, as all writing must, in failure.
— Ta-Nehisi Coates —
Writing is one of the easiest trades to get into, but it takes forever to master. This post is one part writer’s journey and one part honest assessment. I found it too hard to separate the two.
I’m new to Medium. My account is only a few months old, and my time within the Partner Program has been even shorter. Medium for me as been an effective and lasting tool for me to be a writer, allowing me to not worry about all the extra fluff and instead focus on the constant refinement of my work.
Writing was always something I toyed with, but, my whole life, I would imagine myself as a writer without giving much consideration to what I would actually be writing. My brain would reliably sputter and get all fuzzy when people asked what kind of writer I was or even worse, what I was currently writing. I couldn’t tell them and the breadth of possible answers was daunting.
Writing, for me, has always been the art form with the most possibility. Many secret worlds are at a writer’s fingertips, if he only has the courage to seek them out, which is the hard part.
I’ve made many reasonable attempts over the years. I’ve bounced around blog ideas for years, creating sites, picking the perfect domain, sticking with it for a short time, and then promptly giving it up when no results immediately came in. Ask my family. They’ve seen all the grand pronouncements on Facebook of me starting a new blog. Maybe, if I showed them the quiet shuttering of all these short lived sites I would have more carefully considered my writing path.
I have piles of unfinished scripts, short stories, and book ideas littering my desktop, staring back at me curious as to when I might return to their unfinshed pages. I don’t have the heart to tell them the truth, but I feel more like a collector now, than anything else, carefully tending and pruning ideas, constantly measuring their potential. In all this, I’ve learned a little bit about writing, and in so doing have come closer to unlocking its secrets.
Ideas are important, and there are rarely if any bad ones. Each one has a destiny. Some will never be written, some will forever remain unfinished, some will be finished and then immediately burned, and a few lucky souls will make it through, not unlike a pet adoption center.
I’ve found the primary job of a writer is as a translator, turning what you see and hear and think into a coherent argument in favor of your perspective. Writing for me has always been a mix of poetry, innovation, and real world accounting. Ta-Nehisi Coates, in one of my favorite books, We Were Eight Years In Power, likens this almost writing-like nirvana to “It’s as though you have a certain music in your head and trying to get that music out on a page is just absolute hell…”, akin to a perfect tune that plays beautifully in your mind, but somewhere in the translation, it becomes jumbled on the page.
That yearning seems to exist in most writers. It certainly does in me. Excavating one’s mind is brutal, unfeeling work. I’m not there yet but with each new piece I put out into the world, I get a little bit closer. It took me a long time to realize that writing can involve some of the hardest work. Manual labor can seem like a gift, compared to self-reflection and paralyzing self-doubt.
Time is the answer. It seems obvious, but patience and commitment are two things that are in shorter and shorter supply with each new generation. Committing to a period of the day with no distractions or outside influence is a lot harder now than it used to be. We’re all connected, as if there’s always that faint whisper saying “Come here!” beckoning me ever closer to my vices. It’s haunting.
I’ve found it’s a necessary thing to find separation. Go as far away as you need too, so that no one can find you, and then simply write. It’s a trial and the only way forward is to proceed. I imagine a writer in purgatory, ever stuck in a library or DMV and unable to leave until he finishes his work. It’s like that. You must create a situation where it truly is easier to begin than not, where doing nothing actively hurts you.
Writer’s block absolutely exists. Don’t let any writer tell you differently, but what they don’t say is that it can be overcome. One tactic I’ve found is rulung out what I don’t want to write about rather than narrow in on what actually appeals to me.
- I refuse to write lists of any sort. I know these kinds of articles can be lucrative, but these pieces are also trite and easy, in the end acting only as clutter for an already chaotic internet. (I say this fully acknowledging the location of the previous sentence.)
- I can’t do reviews, mostly because I hate reading reviews myself. I have little interest in how to be told to feel about a product, movie, book, or whatever else peopel are reviewing these days.
- I hate writing about the small things. I always stray towards the big, often too big to be condensed and translated on to the page effectively. I’m always curious about institutions function rather than the specific people that are using them.
- I strive to not appeal to your emotions, only because it often doesn’t work. It’s not practical for me, though it can be important in other spaces.
- Finally, I abhor both sides. Most things have one clear right answer, and if not, there are at least many obvious wrong answers to the issues. Opinions are valid, but some are way more valid than others.
These are the maxims I try to keep front and center when I write. After that everything else is fair game, and if I could state just one lesson from my journey so far, the hunt for the kernel of truth within each article or book or script is as much a joy as pressing, “Ready to Publish?”
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
If you liked this post, here are a few others I’ve written that you might enjoy: