Shawn Blanc wrote a really encouraging post on his blog a while back, called "Write for Yourself, Edit for Your Reader". I'm really glad I read it.
Blanc, quoting Stephen King, says that the main cause of bad writing is fear: "It’s fear — or timidity — that holds a writer back from doing her best creative work." But it's what he says next that really hits home:
You’ll also find fear at the root of most non-writing. Shame, doubt, worry, second-guessing, and all their cousins stand guard against us when we sit down to deal with the blank page.
This is my daily struggle: I encounter it everywhere, from when I want to do some real actual writing to when I want to write a silly 140-character tweet. It seems like it should be an easily solved problem, especially because the only thing holding me back is myself.
At least, that's what it looks like on the surface. It's taken a lot of reflection over quite a bit of time, but I think I'm finally starting to understand how to solve the problem of being afraid to write. I'm actually pretty sure this situation is recursive, which makes it a bit easier to categorize it but also confuses the shit out of me because recursion is scary even after taking a handful of computer science classes.
You can't write for others, Blanc says. "Write for yourself." The first draft should be a personal draft; I am writing this for me. It isn't important if people read it now, later, or in a year, what's important is that I'm expressing these thoughts and feelings in a way that I will be able to look back on in the future. In this regard, writing is a little bit like meditation.
I want to write for myself, but I also really, really want other people to read what I've written, too. And I'm scared of people reading what I write, which, now that I say it, sounds pretty silly. I'm mostly scared of people reading what I write because I'm afraid of those people thinking that I'm not smart. But then I realized: who the fuck cares about other people? I mean, I do (and you should too) but this is my blog. It's my space, my life, my stories. I still don't want people to think that I'm dumb. But the only way to get better is to practice, and if you're afraid of putting anything out there, you'll never be able to practice and you'll never be able to get better.
So I'm going to start practicing. I want to contribute to the chorus of voices. I might not be heard, but that doesn't matter to me. As long as I'm doing my part and contributing to the whole, I'll be happy. And I know that the more writing I do, the better I'll get at writing. So here's one of the first of many 500-ish word essays that I hope to be posting here on a regular basis (This idea was partially inspired by MG Siegler's 500 words project). I actually already posted one essay called "Whistle Hoot" about an extraordinary encounter I witnessed in Penn Station back in January. So I'm actually posting things beyond meta-essays like this one! I'm also working on a piece about why I want to buy an Apple Watch even though I already own a very-nice watch, so keep an eye out for that one.
Here's to the future.