I’ll be honest. Writing is hard. Harder than I thought it would be. I wasn’t a stranger to writing, before. I lost count of how many essays and papers I wrote throughout seven years of college and law school. As a lawyer I wrote dozens of legal briefs. I was no stranger to writing. But this is different.
This type of writing, the taking of my ideas and thoughts that are running through my head, and putting them on a screen. This is hard.
I have published seven articles for Chris Brogan’s Owner Magazine. Each article has taken me hours to write, and by hours, I’m talking more than 10. Sometimes more than 20. On the first day of every month, when the new issue goes live, I force myself to read what I wrote. It isn’t articulated in the way I wanted it to be, yet these are my words. I wrote them. When I read them, all together on the page, I see only what I didn’t say. The thoughts that didn’t make it from my outline to the screen. Where did they go?
Writing is hard.
I created my own blog because I have a lot to say. I did not expect it to be this hard to write it and share it.
I’m not lacking for ideas. Ideas are in abundance. The challenge is in putting those ideas into coherent sentences. The challenge is in articulating my message.
I walk around the city and hear the words echo inside my brain in coherent sentences. They make sense to me. And then I sit down to write them and … nothing. Well, not exactly nothing. Words appear on the screen, and they are different from how they appeared in my mind. It doesn’t sound the same.
I have a conversation with a friend about a topic, and I know it will be a great blog post. I say, “I should write about this for my blog.” I sit down to write what I said to my friend, and … nothing. The words are stuck in my head.
“I just told this whole blog post to my friend. Where did the words go? They were just here.”
I take out my voice recorder. I think, “If I can tell this to a friend, I can speak it into the voice recorder. Then I can hire someone to transcribe it for me.” Yes. This is the plan. This will work. I take out my voice recorder and hit record, and …. nothing. The words don’t come out.
“Damn words. Where did you go? I just had you. I just spoke you. Why is this different?”
Many writing experts have advised me not to edit while I am writing. They tell me to write first, then go back to edit later. Ok. Let’s try that. I decide to try the old-fashioned way. I take out my journal. I think, “I will put pen to paper and let the words flow. Then I cannot edit while I write.”
The words flow onto the paper. Outlines, thoughts, ideas and even complete sentences. I take my journal and open it to type what I wrote.
“This will be easy. I’ve already written it. Now I only need to type the words that are on this page.”
That doesn’t happen. I’m looking at the words on the page. I am typing different words. Different sentences. The ideas change right in front of me. My eyes are looking at one thing, and my fingers are typing another.
It must be the distractions. To minimize my distractions, I type on my iPad in Drafts App or Byword, with a portable keyboard. On the iPad, nothing else can be open when my text editor is open. No web browser just a click away with its endless tabs and infinite possibilities to explore and distract. No folders of documents to start organizing. No photos to organize. No external hard drive to tempt me into creating new backup workflows. Just my screen and my keyboard.
My white screen, with the blinking cursor, is teasing me:
Your words will never been the same on this screen as they are in your head.
Maybe it’s the white screen that is the problem. I adjust the preferences to switch to the “dark” layout, so the screen is black and the words are white. I’m not used to this. It’s out of my comfort zone. This will be the solution. I’m positive.
The cursor still taunts me. It is even more pronounced on the black screen than it was on the white screen. It flashes, like a ticking clock. Seconds feel like minutes. Sometimes, it seems to be changing the pace of its pulses, like it’s sending a message in Morse Code:
“Time is ticking. What are you waiting for?”
Shut up, cursor.
I have so much to say.
So many thoughts every day.
So many things to share.
I know there are people who care.
OMG, seriously? I did not intend to write a poem. Really. Those words were not in my head that way. I’m not sure those words were in my head at all. I am tempted to delete the poem, but I am writing, not editing. The poem stays.
I get up. I drink water. I exercise. I meditate. I breathe. I try everything to get the words to flow.
Maybe I am being too hard on myself. It’s not like I haven’t written anything. I do write. I have dozens of drafts in my Drafts App archive, in Evernote, in Byword, in Google Docs. I have my seven articles on Owner Magazine. Seven!! My words are everywhere. Except on my blog.
Maybe the problem isn’t in the writing, but in the publishing.
Writing is hard. Publishing is harder.
Publishing seems so …. final. It requires a commitment.
What if I change my mind about what I wrote? What if my writing is not good? What if my writing is good? What happens if my writing is so good that it goes viral and people come to my blog and see how little I’ve published and how it’s still a mess over here, six months after I launched it? What if my site crashes? What if people think less of me when they read what I wrote? What if they think more of me? What if I can’t live up to their expectations? What if I can?
Here it is, again: that familiar struggle with self-approval.
What if I stopped thinking about how other people might respond to what I write, and I just wrote it for me?
What if I stopped asking stupid “what if” questions and just published my thoughts. Throw caution to the wind and watch what happens from the perspective of a detached observer.
What if I published this?
I hear the familiar sound of Inner Voice 1: “Don’t be ridiculous. You are not publishing this.”
And then, Inner Voice 2 speaks up: “Yes. Publish this. Austin Kleon says to ‘Show Your Work.’ This is your work. Start somewhere. Start here.”
Inner Voice 2 makes a valid point. What if I published this, even if only as a way to “show my work”?
I started reading Show Your Work (affiliate) a few weeks ago. I had put it down in the middle and then left it on the table, unfinished. It seems to be my theme. Unfinished books. Unfinished blog posts. I open to where I left off: Chapter 4: Open Your Cabinet of Curiosities.
On page 76, he quotes Ira Glass:
For the first couple of years you make stuff, it’s just not that good.
It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.
Wow. This is both harsh and liberating at the same time. I feel the wheels turning as a thought develops:
What if I just accepted — at the outset — that whatever I write will not be good, and I publish it anyway?
I consider an experiment: What if I write something and publish it, even if it is bad? What if I decided to publish it because it is bad?
Ha! What if I set out with the purpose to write something bad and publish it… just because.
Just because it’s something.
Just because it’s what I am thinking now.
Just because it’s an exercise in typing words onto the screen and allowing other people to read them.
What if I let go of all of the questions and doubts and “what ifs” and just …. let them go.
What if I stopped worrying about whether I’ll change my mind or my opinion, or find better words or better sentences, and instead accept that what I write and publish today is what I think, feel and believe today?
This isn’t a term paper or a legal brief. They are just thoughts and observations. Just words on a screen. Why give them so much power over me?
This could be fun! Write and publish. Even it it’s bad. Because it is bad. Step back and watch what happens.
And if I wake up tomorrow with different thoughts?
Well, then I’ll be ahead of the game: I’ll already have something to write about.