Our topic today is writing, and this is quite timely, as I can use this opportunity to inform (warn?) you that I’m taking part in a month-long writing challenge. The goal is to write and publish every day in the month of October with the theory that writing every day brings new ideas into focus, and helps stimulate creativity. The reality is that by October 15th you may be getting posts that consist of little more than my grocery list, or the lyrics to “Stairway to Heaven.” But we’ll see about that.
For today at least, I have a subject of some significance in mind, and that is writing and the creative process.
Most of the readers of my blog are themselves bloggers, so I suspect they’ll be able to relate. Writing down words is a very personal act, almost an intimate one. It’s the print version of not just showing the boys your underwear in the cloakroom, but showing them to everyone in front of the whole class. It’s scary. The words on the page represent your brain, your soul. Even if you’re being funny, you’re baring a part of your self, leaving it open to criticism or worse, to ridicule. Additionally, the writing landscape today is so volatile. What’s hot and exciting today is forgotten tomorrow. A writer’s emotions follow a pattern, a repeating roller coaster of ups and downs that only someone who has dared to brave the terrors of the ride can genuinely understand. Let’s examine this pattern.
Step 1: No one is going to pay any attention to this. But I’m putting it out there anyway.
With great reluctance you put your modest offering out to the world, either on your own blog, or by sending it to a sympathetic site for publication. You’re pretty sure no one will read it, but in your secret mind you can’t help but think, “It might be big. It might go viral and get picked up by major media outlets.” You tell yourself the odds are so small, but in that tiny part of your heart that you barely admit exists, you’re hoping so hard you’re clamping your virtual butt cheeks together.
Step 2: Wait, someone likes that? Well, I might be an OK writer
It goes live, and within a few minutes, someone has commented favorably on it. You get a few more comments—positive, supportive, “I love this!” You sit up a little straighter, and unclench your virtual butt cheeks. Maybe this won’t be so bad. Maybe it’ll even be fine. Maybe you’re even a pretty good writer!
Step 3: Hey! They like me! I'm pretty good!
Many more comments, all of them nice—“You’re hilarious!” “You always make me laugh!” “THIS!” Maybe even a few shares on social media. Oh boy! They like you, they really, really like you! This is just incredible. You are high on recognition, and drunk with affirmation. And who knows? Maybe this one is your ticket! This is the one that will catch just the right attention. You could be on your way to widespread recognition! Ohpleaseohpleaseohplease.
Step 4: Wait? Where are you going?
But time passes (not much—an hour in the blogsphere is like seven years to a dog. Or something) and you’re not the shit anymore. Someone else has published something else that’s grabbing the spotlight. You’re old news, and your piece has only been out in the world for six hours. You try a little promotion—Facebook, maybe even a Twitter link (although you know that can be perceived as a sign of desperation). You just can’t compete with that other attention-grabber.
Step 5: I’m not as good as X.
You click on the link of the piece that’s splatted all over your Facebook feed, being shared by all your friends, writer and non-writer alike. What the fuck? This? This is what pulled the attention away from you? Yeah, OK it’s amusing and all, but is it really that much better than your piece? You read it again. And again. It…it really is better, isn’t it. Damn it. You’re not as good as s/he is, and why didn’t you think of that topic first? You’ve got tons to say about it. Damn. Damn. Damn.
Step 6: Maybe I should try to be more like X.
Maybe you should try to be more like the person who’s in the spotlight now. You read through some old posts of theirs, and jot down some ideas that you get. You notice how they present a joke, how they tackle a sensitive topic. You can do that. You’re as good as that. You snap open a Word doc and dive in to write something with their voice still in your head. You got this!
Step 7: I can’t do that—that’s not me. I’ll never be anything.
After half a dozen attempts, you realize you’re not going to be able to do it, because we can’t stifle our own voices. Despair sets in. You’ll never think of a good topic again. Screw this. You have ice cream. And Oreos. And wine.
You may spend several hours, days, or even weeks in Step 7. The funk is real. Then one day inspiration strikes, and you write something again. The cycle starts all over.
And this, people who do not write, is what it’s like to be a writer. The stress of coming up with a fresh angle on a topic.The fear our work won’t be accepted, the delight when it strikes the right note with an audience, the let down when it’s brushed aside like sand in the gutter, and the despair of ever finding inspiration again. Over and over and over. Day after day.
People who dismiss any form of written output, no matter how small, as “just words” or “no big deal” have never felt the pride of having their work recognized, nor the pain of having the feeling or opinion they’ve shared dismissed, belittled, or credited to someone else. Those feelings are real, and they are strong.
Be gentle with writers, for behind all their fine words, they are insecure, and easily hurt by carelessly flung barbs and thoughtless criticism. They really crave only acceptance and affection. If you can’t offer that, it’s best to just walk away without saying anything.