Thoughts On Writing

taking the mystery out of writing

As I’ve embarked on this adventure in writing, I’ve noticed a few things about how I work, and how long it takes me to get things done. As the leader of a software development team, I’m focused on communication. I dedicate two out of my three screens to email, instant messaging, and chat. At any given time throughout my day, I’m juggling multiple conversations and dealing with a variety of emails. By any definition of the word, I am not a doer. I don’t write code. I solve people problems, not code problems. To be fair, I do some technical things at work, but mostly I’m dealing in some kind of written communication.

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IMG_2769.JPGWhen I’m interested in a topic, I want to learn everything I can about the subject. This applies to technology, health, fitness, history, writing and more. I am an avid reader and have a reading list that only grows, and never seems to shrink.

Most of what I write is in emails, some short blog posts, and occasionally, some documentation for a project. Underlying all that has been a desire to do more, to “write more” as I mentioned in an earlier post. I’ve been under the mistaken impression that this desire has really only come up recently, but I realized that it’s been much longer.

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What’s the hardest part about writing? It doesn’t matter if you’re a poet, an author of a young adult fiction series, or a technical writer for a large corporation: from singer-songwriter to playwright to the dude who writes the dialogue for your favorite video game character, the struggle is the same.

Though I love writing more than almost anything (after comic books, chicken fried rice, and sleeping in), I’m the first to admit that writing is hard. I was once ridiculed by my professor for submitting a poem to a workshop that had a glaringly obvious typo. Later on, I wrote a research paper on Marvels (Busiek and Ross) and had to ask for several extensions for various reasons. Even now, when I’m writing copy for signage or an email, I often find myself getting caught up on finding the “right words” rather than making any real progress.

Whether it’s missing a typo, pushing back a deadline, or lacking creativity, I always have an excuse when it comes to writing:

  • I can only write in the [morning/afternoon/evenings/wee hours of the night]
  • I need a new [pen/desk/notebook/computer] before I can [start/finish]
  • I’m too [tired/busy/stressed] to [write/edit]
  • I’m not feeling inspired
  • I have writer’s block
  • I can’t find the time

I have an undergraduate degree in English Language and Literature (ELL) with a concentration in Creative Writing. I continued to study ELL and Creative Writing in a Master’s Program, where I branched out into several different genres and areas of discipline, ranging from poetry and experimental fiction to literary theory and applied linguistics.

TL;DR: I’ve written a lot.

Some of it good, tons of it passable, and even more that I’d probably be embarrassed to just look at again. Don’t get me wrong: I love writing. I mean, it’s not lucrative, and the process of putting pen to paper (literally or metaphorically) can be absolutely infuriating. Hell, something that should be simple—like a line break, or a thesis statement—is never remotely as easy as it seems.

Writing may be hard, but the excuses we come up with for not writing are just that: excuses. Yes, many of them are valid. However, if you’re truly passionate about writing—if you’re in it for the struggle of stringing together jumbled thoughts on a blank white page to make something meaningful—you’ll find a way.

Budget a timeslot in your schedule to write. Keep it exactly the same each day, anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour—whatever works for you. Committing that period of time to write is the easiest way to not only get in the habit but also change your mindset.

Rather than saying “I want to write good writing,” just let yourself write. There’s this myth that an author can sit down at a desk in a candle-lit room and vomit up the perfect paragraph. I’m telling you: it’s 100% untrue. That first line, that first stanza, that first drop of ink will almost never be perfect, and that’s okay. Let it be okay. It’s on the foundation of this imperfect thing that we build our own stories.

To say I’ve always enjoyed writing would be a lie. In school, we were forced to write and, like most teenagers, I did what I had to do but never really enjoyed it. I wrote research papers, opinion papers, book reports, and essays. I’m sure at some point I was even forced to write poetry. Once I started working as a software developer, my writing turned to requirements and design documents, and sometimes to user documentation.

It wasn’t until the early 2000’s when I started a blog that I began to enjoy writing. The blog was mostly about technical issues I ran into, but sometimes it was about experiences I had as a consultant or about a book I read or something going on in the news. I really enjoyed the outlet and received good feedback on many of my posts.

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