Some time ago, apparently in 2013, I wrote the following – but then only put part of it in my blog. In fact, looking at it now, I see it might even have been a part of a letter I had written – I just don’t know. I imagined, upon finding this document, that I had published the whole thing. It comes up again now as I have had so many discussions about writing and how one lives as a writer – or accepts the label or distinction of being a “writer” – what separates those who call themselves that, those who really do it, and those who actually write something useful versus something good? And does it matter if it’s good? Is anything objectively good? And when or how, if at all, do you throw off the doubts, insecurities, past argumentation, excuses and just write and see what happens?
From Valentine’s Day 2013 (?) – Writing, friendship, finding and silencing a voice
Thinking a lot about writing. I have always been prolific and productive … words just pour out. But nothing better than mediocrity. As a child, as soon as I was capable of writing, I was writing. But nothing I wrote was careful or measured. Not that you expect an 8 year old to produce carefully crafted, well-thought-out, plot and character-driven stories. No, but I was even more careless than that. I hurried through everything in life as though it were some kind of race. Every activity in school, I wanted to get ahead, get there quickly and be finished. Finished with what, I don’t know… there was no finish line and things just went on and on. (I have only reached a place in life now – almost 40 – where I don’t feel like everything is a race.)
Spilling over into adolescence, I met a girl who was to become my best friend for several years. She declared very quickly after meeting that she wanted to be a writer and was working on a story of which she seemed rather proud. I remember the first time I went to her house, she shared the story with me. I don’t remember the story very well – only that the main character was a girl named “Kyle” (my brother’s name), and upon reflection I get the feeling this character was a lightly fictionalized version of her troubled self. I suppose like most people who invest any time and effort into writing and stake their identities and reputations on it (even if they are kids), I felt intimidated by other people’s writing, another conceit and insecurity that has fallen away with years and thicker skin. I, too, considered myself something of a writer. Both of us had apparently been tagged with this moniker from youth and had attended all the young writers’ conferences and writing courses offered to people our ages.
I suppose like most “writers” I also felt fraudulent. I was 12 and I had nothing to say. No experience. No insights. Just some random feelings and a cloudy, guessed-at grasp of what I imagined adult reality and experience might be like. I was still plagued by that sense of hurrying up – finish – move on to the next thing. But added to this was the desperate desire to be liked – not by just anyone but by this would-be best friend. I spent every evening dashing off lengthy but at-best mediocre stories for her benefit. I wanted her to read them and love them – we were the thinly veiled protagonists of these ridiculous stories. I wanted to come to school each morning and deliver a new story for her entertainment and her praise. Not because I fancied myself a writer or thought it would lead anywhere but because I wanted her to be happy.
But it didn’t matter. While she loved the stories, and I was eventually counted as her best friend (which had been my dubious, feverish-teen-girl aim – a number of us were competing for this dubious honor. No idea why – this is the adolescent girl way), the whole productive force of what I had created intimidated her. She felt insecure and suffered a crisis of confidence about her writing in the midst of the universal crisis of confidence – adolescence – because she could not keep up with the avalanche. (How many times have I hit this wall of “I can’t keep up with you” reasoning?) The sheer volume of what I had created silenced her. She believed somehow that what she imagined and created was no longer good enough because it did not exist in the same abundance.
We were 12. We did not know about “less is more” and “quality not quantity”.
The strange thing is… this is still a thing. The friend is no longer in my life. I have no idea if she later realized these truths and picked up pen and paper or a computer again and started capturing her thoughts in writing. I hope so. But I find that I have made my entire career on this ability to rapidly churn out reliably decent, mediocre text in which I have little to no personal stake. It’s called B2B marketing, and it is soul-sucking and dry and maybe just a couple of steps above used car salesmanship.
And because I produce a lot – the productivity fools a lot of people. I am somehow “so good at my job” because I create a lot of material quickly. Is it good? Not in the way I consider things good. Yes, it displays an understanding of the discipline/industry/field about which I write. Yes, it’s decent and correct. Would it win any awards (even within the marketing industry)? No. It all does its job and is better than anything a content mill produces.
But it is this volume question again that gets to me. People are deciding that I am good at what I do because I am quick and take on a massive workload.
But is that good?
Back in the years of adolescence again… I recall that I earned this reputation among all the teachers in the school and eventually the school district as a “writer”… and eventually I suppose that intimidated me and made me feel boxed in, in much the same way as my friend had felt boxed in by my productivity. Were these adults not just humoring me? Encouraging me to do something because they are teachers, adults, would-be mentors and have to encourage us? Could my writing actually stack up to anything else in the real world? Eventually I came to resent this “title” and moved away from it. I spent very little time in high school writing for enjoyment. I wrote a lot of research papers, essays, letters – in fact I still wrote all the time, for different audiences and different reasons. This continued in college. Most of my professors echoed the sentiments – that I was a really good writer. But even if this seemed more truthful and objective than earlier applications of this title, I, by then, felt out of practice. I had been writing letters and essays/analysis for so long that I had no idea how to write a story any longer.
To think that I used to write 30 or 40 pages every night without even thinking.
And maybe that is the key – without even thinking.
You can think and edit later. But for now, just write. Get all the words out, let the story flow. Follow it where it goes. But for such a long time I had been writing carefully crafted paragraphs that supported only what my evidence could prove. And this is not creative. It IS what makes me successful in B2B marketing and other similar content creation. But it is not what will lead to a readable novel.