January 24, 2014

How You Become The Writer You Always Wanted To Be

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You will not begin with greatness. You will begin with putting words down on a page.

You will write because you want to, because you feel like you should. Because something in you was sparked one day in English class. Because you’re bored, because there is nothing else better to do, because somebody gave you a diary one year for your birthday and you figured you might as well try to use it. Because doing so sorts out racing thoughts and messy feelings.

You will be bad at first. Everyone is. Few people are virtuosos, and even then, the ones who start out writing well can always write better. You need these primitive pieces and notes and love letters to no one because years later, you will find them, and you will cringe. You will find fault in your own work — and this is because you will have grown. Once being bad doesn’t take away from now being better. It means you’ve worked hard, sacrificed harder, and made something of what was once nothing.

And those old pieces of writing you’ll find? You won’t be able to make heads or tails of half of them, but the ones you can make sense of will strike you as clumsy and awkward and raw. They will be confusing and convoluted and you’ll think of 17 different words you could have used instead of that one, and the jumbled tenses will strike you as the work of a completely inexperienced daydreamer. All hope, no action. The rose-colored glasses and beer goggles of the writing world will have now come off. What you thought you were doing is very, very different from what you were doing. But now, you can acknowledge it and you can try to remedy it.

Some of what you wrote will not be salvageable. Sacrifice it to the craft that is writing and move on. This is paying your dues.

Along the way, edit as much as you can. Edit your own work, your friends work when they ask for it — but remember to be kind, because they, too, are fumbling around in the dark. We all are.

But hack your own work apart. Dismember it. Open it up so that you can stitch it back together better. Learn to love the process. Turn on track changes and watch them add up, the lines and notes crowding the page so that there is more color than text. This is watching yourself progress. And then stop. Turn your computer off, leave it there, and know when to say when. Learn where the threshold is, because if given the chance, you will nitpick everything so that it is threadbare and the original ideas are meager bones of themselves. Learn to trust your original intuition, and respect the ideas that spurred you to write in the first place. Editing makes you a better writer, but you are a writer first and foremost. You must respect both sides of the equation.

Check back in with yourself, and ask yourself why. Why would anyone care to read this? Why would you care to write this? So what? How is this going to change the world? By and large, it may not — but sometimes, it just might. Sometimes it might help just one other person, one solitary soul outside of yourself, and if this is your only audience, then you are doing enough good. You are helping someone else. That is all the universe could ever ask of you.

So write. For that other person, for yourself, for the sake of the fact that without our words and emotions and feelings and thoughts, who are we? Why are we here? How do we remember, how are we remembered? So what? So everything.

So write. TC mark

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