On Writing

Everyone, it seems, wants to be a writer. At least, that seems to be the case in many creative circles. Graphic designers, web developers, artists, makers, bakers, creators..the people who do things with their hands often fantasize about doing and making things with their words. I’m not sure where the romance of writing morphed into legend, but most people think of writing as packing up and going away to the woods with nothing but paper, pen, and bourbon in order to properly wallow in angst and self-examination. Then, a couple months later, they emerge from the forest with the next American classic in hand.

Writing is sometimes like that. It can be excessively isolating - writing is like dying in that no one can do it for you. You can dick around about it, drink around it, talk around it or work around it but you cannot pay or plead with someone else to do your work for you. It’s your task, and yours alone. You are born alone, you die alone, and you write alone. That is just the way it is.

Writing is a little moody. Moody may not be the right word, however. “Emotional” is more like it. Writing is emotional. It is heavily dependent on your own intuition and ability to absorb the energy around you, sort through it and define it and describe it and transcribe it. That is moody work, indeed. The best writers, I think, inherently absorb the energy of what is going on around them - of the people they meet and the places they visit. That is an inherent characteristic that is hard to turn off and hard to contain. It can bring a lot of grief. Writing requires a certain brand of sensitivity that isn't necessarily helpful in other areas of life or work.

Writing is harsh. Maybe not shot-of-bourbon harsh, but almost so. The hardest part of writing is understanding that you can write great words or paragraphs or entire works and that does not mean they should ever reach publication. Good writers edit themselves and others with unmerciful skill. Good writers are enemies of the ego. Good writers can write a great line and, with equal determination and confidence, scratch it completely. Good writers do this because they work for the highest good of the piece, the publication, and its readers.

That is what writing is like.

J.

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Favorite resources on writing: 

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Nicely Said by Nicole Fenton and Kate Kiefer Lee

The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White