I often feel compelled to start but I never get far, and I rarely finish.
Like Dorothy Parker, “I hate writing, I love having written.”
I’m an aspiring writer, a term often reserved for those who don’t write and never will. I’ve taken some stabs at the paper, but the distance between what I’ve written and a body of work worth noticing is enormous.
As life progresses and I become more intimate with my priorities, I wonder which type of aspiring writer I’ll prove to be – one who aspires, or one who delivers?
Most aspiring writers believe they will deliver and some actually do. Many are content with giving others the impression that their thoughts are worthy of being written.
The work of writing itself is too messy and tedious, like advanced arithmetic or experimental chemistry, following nothing but a loose set of rules and your instincts in pursuit of answers that are never wholly convincing.
Writing requires confidence and in confidence there is peace. In writing there is peace but it is short-lived. Our thoughts bottleneck and many of the best ones suffocate under the pressure. Only after we’ve tortured ourselves to make an arrangement of the survivors, we marvel at the miraculous transformation of our mind’s electricity into words on a page. Yet as quickly as the pleasure arrives, we spot a spelling error or a misshapen phrase and the process starts over.
We receive a rejection letter and the process starts over. We forget the point we set out to make and the process starts over. Our trusted first draft reviewer tells us they “just don’t get it” and the process starts over. The writing process is cannibalistic and its appetite is insatiable.
It’s true that writing is cathartic, but not in the way that crying on a loved one’s shoulder is cathartic. The words don’t swell up inside of you and gradually trickle out, leaving you at peace. Writing is sloppy and purgative like having your stomach pumped. While it’s almost certain that you will feel better afterwards, there is no guarantee that the process will be enjoyable.
And, like an emotional release, you may in hindsight regret your words. What once felt impassioned and coherent may later sound ignorant and naive. Even if you stand by your words, if you’ve written something worth reading, there will always be those who criticize and condemn you.
Writing is risky that way. It makes you vulnerable, like being naked in public. If you knew in advance that you were to be naked in public, you’d spend time at the gym beforehand, building confidence and sculpting your best naked self. If you knew you wanted to make a living as a writer, you’d spend as much time writing as you could, ensuring that when the perfect idea struck you’d own the linguistic toolkit to express it.
But it’s not that easy. It’s just not. If you’re an aspiring writer, you probably have a 9-5 that drains your energy and you probably use your free time outside your 9-5 attending to the other necessities of life, and you probably use the free time that remains to relax and do things that are fun – something that writing usually is not.
Therapeutic and worthwhile? Yes. Fun in the way that playing your favourite game or partying with friends is fun? No.
If you can make the claim that writing is fun, in a truthful, unpretentious way, I envy you. However, you are a rarity, and I will not let you convince me that I must choose between enjoying writing or giving up.
Mark Manson claims that our destiny in life isn’t to avoid suffering but to choose the suffering we want for ourselves, and I agree.
If I choose to write, I choose to suffer through the impatient, fleeting thoughts, tricky grammar, and malformed phrases, through criticism, rejection, and vulnerability. I choose to submerge myself in the deepest cavities of my mind, patiently excavating through the blackness to uncover the words that lie inside.