I have many issues with writing. I’ll admit that openly. It’s not something that I really thought of doing, writing for any purpose, but having done it almost consistently in morning pages for over four years and daily for this for the better part of the past twelve months, I’ve learned some things about myself.
One, it’s important to just do it. I can create any excuse to not, but as long as I sit down and actually write, then I’m writing. It’s really that simple.
I love research and learning, and the act of discovery. Partially why I love to travel. But when I get an idea, if I’m not careful, I can research it to death. To the point where I don’t even want to write about the idea. And if I just sit down and get some of this stuff on the page, then it’s out of me.
Two, writing to an audience is a challenge. Once I start writing to someone (or someones) that I don’t know, I start to self-censor. And that, I’ve found, to be incredibly limiting. Not that I want to throw around a lot of swear words in whatever I’m writing, but that bit of mental blockade starts to creep up – the one where you worry about what people think about you.
Steven Pressfield calls this the Resistance. On Resistance, Pressfield writes in Do the Work: “…any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity.
Or, expressed another way, any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower. Any of these acts will elicit Resistance.”
Now I don’t know whether my form of writing could in any way be called ‘an act derived from my higher nature.’ But I do know that I have things to say, and I seem to do okay writing them out.
In writing to a mass audience I seem to lose my presence of mind in the face of resistance.
So, three, it’s better to write as if you are writing to someone specific. When Tim Ferriss wrote The Four-Hour Workweek, he wrote it “with two of [his] closest friends in mind, speaking directly to them and their problems…”
You can find a lot of inspiration for how you write from your friends who are in the same boat. Creatives who are stuck in survival jobs, or can’t seem to get past the block they’re feeling, or just can’t create for any number of reasons. I write these posts mostly to them, and also myself, trying to tell me things I’d like to hear.
Four, Ira Glass said something that resonated with me:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this.”
And it’s true. You emulate the writers you like, and the work you do isn’t only derivative – it tends to be not good. And that can be crushing. The resistance takes ahold of that, and it reinforces your belief that this is all you’ll ever create: bad work.
But it isn’t true. It takes time to become better. It takes commitment. Just by the act of doing it, creating bad work, making mistakes; you get to improve then. Which leads me to;
Five. If you’re not shipping, as Seth Godin calls it, it doesn’t matter. You have to ship the work. Get it out there. Ignore the resistance as it attempts to dissuade you.
That’s a lot of what makes up my writing practice now. Come next year I’ll likely know more. And that, my friend, I’m okay with.