If I am very honest with myself, I thought that writing on the Internet would be easier. I have an endless stream of thoughts that I get caught up in and enjoy discussing. As it turns out, translating them into words that other folks found interesting has been a challenge. Articles that feature things near and dear to my heart do not aways drive traffic and, while perhaps not the ultimate measure of my success, that is still a large consideration in crafting pieces.
I have had to learn how to balance writing about what I think is interesting and what my readers think is interesting. My original intention was to write about cities and urban planning- an attempt to de-mystify the processes that shape New York and phenomena currently impacting American urbanism.
Writing about travel, struggling with anxiety, and connecting deeply personal experiences to broader issues that resonate with people everywhere has generated some of my most successful work. What a strange landscape this is, with the recent buzz around personal essays taking off on digital platforms it has gotten me thinking about the things I choose to share and consequences of exposing aspects of my innermost thoughts to be scrutinized by strangers.
The more I write and engage with other writers at other venues I have realized how lucky I have been to be able to write about whatever I want. Writing with other publications in mind has sharply underscored the great freedom my voice has on a platform like Thought Catalog.
That being said, sometimes having so much freedom can make it hard to nail myself down. I still struggle when I tell people what I write about. What do I write about? Everything. How can I be more focused with my voice? I have had to really consider my motivations in writing. Sometimes money has been the motivation, especially since I transitioned into full-time freelance and consulting work. Sometimes guilt motivates me to write: when I am behind on submissions I feel as if I have wasted an opportunity to publish something important, or have lost income, or the chance to add to dialogue on important issues happening in the media cycle. I often feel lazy- I will force myself to sit down to write because if I do not, I feel like a failure. Writing a few articles a month is not hard, or it doesn’t sound that way.
The truth is that it can be, though. Despite what my motivations are, or trending topics about which I may have a wealth of knowledge or opinions, I can get bogged down in trying to find the perfect voice, the newest thing to add to the conversation on a particular topic, or wondering if anyone even actually cares.
I have had to learn to shake feelings of defeat when I am trying to write. Readers devour articles on dating, friendship, gossip, and listicles on how to fix their lives. Writing these things can be seductive, but finding a way to add to them without just creating more content noise has been a struggle for me. I have felt like a bad writer when I cannot wrap my head around them, when I don’t want to write something that is easy to digest. In some ways, this is partly because of where I write- if I want to cover things more journalistically it will be up to me to cultivate a body of work with publications who are focused on that kind of content. This is where I have learned that it is not just about what you thing you want to write, but who you are writing it for, where you are publishing at, and what drives the voices of each particular platform.
I have also learned that writing is not unlike another art form I love, photography. Much of what I have written over the last year is unpublished, unedited, hiding in a folder on my computer or as notes in my journal. Many of the ideas for articles that slide around in my head seem great at first, but end up unraveling on paper. For every article published, there are countless ideas that don’t quite work out..
The moment you conceive of yourself as a writer is the moment you become one. Every time I would fail to mention my writing during conversations about what I do because it wasn’t my ‘full time’ or ‘primary’ form of income, it wasn’t the other person who thought less of me, but I who thought less of myself. A year of writing and putting myself out there has taught me to take pride in the work that I do, because I have no reason not to.
I have also learned a thing or two about soliciting and accepting advice about my writing career. Some of these lessons came by entertaining advice from people who didn’t care about me, or the quality of my work. Some of these were learned when I exhausted others with too many constant requests or frequent, poorly delivered pitches. Nothing wears out its welcome faster than an insecure professional connection in constant need of coaching.
To that end, I am learning to become more confident in the body of work that I have produced and more deliberate in the platforms I submit to. I am better able to represent myself when I pitch ideas to places that align with core values I have, and can be more discerning about how and when to identify and ask for specific help when I need.
I have also learned that having a team of friends who support my writing has been crucial in forcing me to grow. I have a community of people I can bounce ideas and pitches off of, and a trusted trio of incredible editors who demand excellence from me in my work. When I struggle with my voice, they help me find it. Without their constructive criticism, I would not have been able to produce most of what I have in the past year. For their patience and effort I am eternally grateful. The world of writing is difficult, and when people take the time to workshop a piece with you, to connect you to editors and other venues, and who are unafraid to call out weaknesses in your work it is critically important that you show them you care.
Every great adventure is challenging- full of its own setbacks, triumphs, and failures. This year has been an excellent foundation. As I consider the work I have done and weigh it against the half-fleshed out ideas, skeletal drafts, and the body of work I have yet to publish, I am not daunted, but eager to move forward- to strive harder, pitch more, and contribute to the work of others.