By Somebody who is Still Figuring it out
Writing sucks. It really does. When you’re doing it, you feel awful about what you’re doing, when you’re not doing it you feel even worse. You push it away like it’s a superpower and you don’t want that kind of responsibility. But everywhere you go, it’s in the back of your head, nagging away at you. And no matter how anxious it makes you, you keep crawling back, because when you get it right it’s the best feeling in the world. It is those moments that make you search for articles on how to get that feeling every day.
Now, before you read on, I have to add a little disclaimer. There is a reason this blog post has the title it does and that’s because I haven’t quite figured this out myself yet. However, I do know that I have read plenty of pieces by a numerous authors on how to write every day and none of them really help. Sure, they give you all the technical advice you need, and they tell you how to sit and get it done. But that has never really worked for me. What has worked, is learning that what I saw as a “successful writer” was what was holding me back.
To understand what I mean by this, try thinking about the first story you ever wrote. I remember coming as home as a kid and hand-writing silly stories about my friends and I. I had distractions then, as I do now, but I would still always choose to write first. Not just because I wanted to have my friends eaten by zombies or to make myself seem like a hero, but because it was like watching a movie. The experience was just as fun, except I got to decide who was in it and how the story unfolded. It never once occurred to me that this fun game I was playing could be a career.
As I got older, this idea of being a “writer” started to sneak in. Teachers actually started to tell me I was good at something so, naturally, I started to compare myself to other writers. I would tell myself I need to finish a novel by 26 because I read that was when Stephen King published his first book. Or a screenplay by 25 because a magazine told me that was when Kevin Smith made Clerks. This fun thing I did as a child that was the same as watching a movie or playing a video game was becoming more of a tangible life option. This meant I had to get “good” at it. So, at 18, I dropped out of the course I was already on in Ireland, worked and saved up as much money as I could, and moved to London to be a writer.
Studying Creative and Professional Writing in London was one of the best decisions I ever made. You can argue all day about the merits of Creative Writing courses, but you cannot deny the effect being surrounded by other writers can have on you. When you’re a hopeful young writer, the feeling you get from spending years surrounded by like-minded, creative, and supportive people is like no other feeling. It makes you excited to write and to have that work analysed and criticised so that you can keep getting better. You begin to look forward to hearing others read their work and helping them to improve as well. I would not change anything about my experience studying Creative Writing, but it also changed my reasons for writing. Without me even noticing, I had shifted my goals toward a new idea of success.
Immediately after university I was optimistic, passionate, and confident. I was ready to find myself a career in writing. Top of my list was finding a way to make regular money through writing, followed by the illusive novel. I managed to get a job writing Copy for a year but struggled to keep it up on top of also working in retail. And the novel has been deleted and re-started more times than I can count. As I got more desperate to succeed I found myself trying to get into online writing. But posting to social media just seemed to cause more anxiety than it was worth because I was caring too much about likes and comments. All this combined to give me a crushing feeling of failure that nearly led to me giving up writing completely.
Then something interesting happened, I took a job that had absolutely nothing to do with writing. It was my first job out of retail and I took it because it was my foot in the door toward a better career. I still thought I would write a novel someday and just self-publish, but the idea of writing as a career was gone. I was now trying to find a job I could still be happy in and maybe write a little in my spare time.
It wasn’t long before I found myself wanting to write again. I started writing small handwritten poems for Instagram, not caring about who saw them. Just writing them, posting them, and forgetting about them. Then I started coming up with ideas for bigger stories, making notes about a novel or a screenplay as I sat around at home or even at work. While I wasn’t writing every day, I was getting damn close. The pressure I had unknowingly placed on myself was dissipating and I was beginning to feel the same joy for writing I had felt as a kid.
As I began to find myself writing more and more, I started thinking about my journey from the first story I wrote until now. It was here that I realised how much my perception of a “writer” had effected me. Subconsciously, I was putting pressure on each bit of writing to be my big break. And while this pressure can be a great motivator, it can also change how you see your passion. It can bring out anxieties that prevent you from sitting and writing every day. You begin to fear writing because now there is so much relying on it. But once you realise a writer is not just somebody who has been published or has been paid for a bit of writing, then your idea of success changes. Because you realise that a writer is just a person who writes, and that’s you.
Now, I know this can all sound a bit like a self-help book. But I want to issue you with a challenge. Next time you’re worried about writing, I want you to try not think about the end product. Don’t think about the money, the likes, the views, or the interviews you’ll be doing once your book sells a few million copies. Don’t even worry about writing every day, just write and get that feeling of enjoyment back. Once you have done that for a while, you will naturally find yourself writing on days you would normally have opted for Netflix. But the best part is, if you do decide to watch Netflix instead, you won’t beat yourself up over it. You’ll have removed the pressure from writing and that’s when you can really write that first kick ass novel, screenplay, or poem.
Start writing for yourself again and you will eventually write something for the world.