Writing is hard. I sound whiney and this is something that we all already know--that is why so few people are writers. It’s damn hard. But I am beginning to find that this difficulty is self-imposed. We all can write. We’ve all written things that we are proud of, despite the plethora of things that we probably aren’t so proud of.
Anyway, as I was saying, the difficulty of writing is self-imposed. The difficulty of writing is not in writing, it is in writing well, and we--the writers--are our own harshest critics. We write a sentence, look back, hate it, try again, hate it, and so it goes. We end feeling dejected with something we just don’t even want to go back and edit because we hate it.
I’m as guilty as anybody, even writing this post, right here, I hate most of it and grow dissatisfied with each keystroke. In an effort to, I don’t want to say “heal” myself, but in an effort to get over this fear of writing poorly, I have been writing everyday without stopping. I write until I write five-hundred words or so and I do not stop. Sometimes the end result is repetitive gibberish, but so what, it doesn’t take very long when you don’t allow yourself to stop. I do this exercise every day, and I do it on a typewriter so I can’t delete and just have to keep forging ahead until my page is full.
When I’ve finished, I put the page in a manila folder and then into a drawer in my desk.
I leave the pages be.
Then, every Saturday, I review the writings of the previous week and I circle/highlight the things that I like. I copy them down into my “ideas journal” (I hate the way that sounds, but there is really no other way to describe what it is--being a journal full of ideas).
What I have found is this:
First, the collection of pages serves as a good recap of my life, week, how I feel, etc. It is interesting to me, at least. Second, there are some pretty damn good ideas in there when I just let myself go. Or at least I like to think so. Even just a phrase or a sentence can serve as a kernel from which something else can pop. Third, I feel more satisfied with myself. I have a tangible page of writing from each day, and I have a folder full of them. The folder may not contain my magnum opus, but I see it as practice. I am getting better. Even if 1% of what I write is good, if I see this through for a year (this year being a leap year) I will have 366 pages of stream-of-consciousness whatever-I-end-up-with and three and two thirds of those pages will be actual good writing. I like to think that more than one percent of what I write is at least “good.”
The way I see it, to use a very, very, very lame analogy. If I go to bat 366 times, I’ll definitely strike out a bunch, but I’ll also hit some singles, some doubles, triples, and even a couple home runs.
We’ve all had those moments where we have great writerly ideas at horrible times. Out on a date, riding in the car, at your cousin’s ballet recital, a distant relative’s funeral--you name it. Here are a few methods I’ve experimented with to make sure that none of my ideas die and fade away before I have a chance to write them down.
Pros: It feels very writerly, walking around, taking notes, having a pen in your pocket and a little Moleskine book filled with observations from your day. Even if your ideas are shit, you look the part at the very least.
Cons: Well, you’re carrying around a pen and a notebook everywhere. Pens explode. They leak ink. And notebooks are bulky, even when they’re small. Carrying around 50 index-card sized pages around is a feat that can’t be done without pockets are a little bag. For female writers, shove it in your purse. For males, maybe invest in a satchel?
2. Text yourself the ideas as they come.
Pros: Efficient, autocorrect takes away the typos that come with trying to jot down ideas quickly. All your ideas end up stored in a single place, the text thread that you share with yourself. You can also text yourself pictures, sound bytes, videos, etc. that you found inspirational.
Cons: It feels a little strange and lonely, texting oneself. But we’re writers so I guess strange and lonely are right in our wheelhouse. Also, if your battery runs out then you’re shit out of luck. Also people might ask who you’re constantly texting, and it is a little uncomfortable to have to explain that you are--in fact--texting yourself. Because you’re a writer/have no friends, basically.
3. Write on yourself--hands, arms, legs, socks, etc.
Pros: You definitely won’t lose your ideas, they are literally on your person. You don’t have to carry around a notebook or worry about texting yourself, just have a pen with lots of ink to cover yourself with. Temporary tattoos are cool.
Cons: Temporary tattoos might not be cool when you can’t scrub them off and the ideas turn out bad. Your arms/legs/hands also offer only so much idea-space, and ink has a tendency to rub off when it’s left on your skin long enough.
I recently read a quote somewhere, I don’t recall where exactly, but it went as so: “Write to tell, not to sell.”
The principle behind it is to write the story you want to tell, not the story you think your readers want to hear. It’s a noble idea, staying true to yourself as a writer, writing about the stuff that’s important to you, but is it practical?
Example: Hypothetically (or maybe not), let’s say a particular writer (who shall remain nameless) absolutely loves, adores, and knows everything there is to know about the flora and fauna of a certain region of Alberta, Canada. Interesting stuff, surely, but I doubt that any book--fiction, nonfiction, etc.--about the flora and fauna of Alberta, CA is going to sell as well as the next James Patterson book or John Grisham’s next release.
The dilemma here is two pronged: first, we are writers because we have something to say. Something that we believe is uniquely ours. Something that we can say better than anybody else who walks this earth. So, we want to write that and we want people to buy it once we (hopefully) publish it (despite the fact that, like the flora and fauna of Alberta, CA, some things that we find riveting can put somebody else to sleep). The second prong is: we need to make money. And we want to make money writing, doing what we love. If you do what you love for a living you’ll never work a day in your life, right? That’s how it goes? The dream. Write what we like and sell it so we never have to sit in a cubicle and shoot the shit with co-workers in the break room.
But what is the point of writing if nobody will ever read it? And what is the point of writing if we’re not writing something that we really, really want to write. The latter is just as bad as taking any other day job, isn’t it? Is this all just a matter of luck? I sure hope not. Do we have to crank out a couple palatable pieces that the masses can digest before we really get to work on our passion projects? You know, like Matthew McConaughey almost. Be the hunky rom-com guy, star in some flops, profit by popping off the shirt and being tanned/ripped--then bang! Drop thirty pounds and star in Dallas Buyers Club. Play Rust Cohle in True Detective--one of the greatest series of all time (in my humble and unqualified opinion).
Really, you’ve gotta work your way up the ladder. Or so that’s how it seems. Your first job isn’t gonna be your dream job, and it probably won’t be your last job either. I guess the same holds true for writing. You’re going to have to write some things that you don’t necessarily give a damn about. But eventually you’ll get to write your Matthew McConaughey Dallas Buyers Club equivalent. And that, folks, is the dream.
Hashtags and filters. Likes, comments, and #ThrowbackThursday—#tbt if you’re hip and with it. This is the argot of Instagram, and chances are, if you’re a millennial (and even if you’re not—plenty of parents and even grandparents have accounts on IG), you’re familiar with the terms and jargons and trends that exist on this social media platform.
But outside of the occasional selfie or sunset picture, what is Instagram really good for? Well, you might be hesitant to believe me, but it’s a great place to be a writer.
I recently created an Instagram account, under a pseudonym, where I post short bits of things I write. Bits of prose, short poems, and yes, even a guilty haiku or two. And to be entirely honest, I’ve fallen in love with the people I’ve met through the platform.
I figured I’d never get that much attention on Instagram as a writer, there are tons and tons of people who post their poetry and prose on their profiles every single day, often every few hours or so. So what would make people give a shit about mine?
The answer is that these writers of Instagram are just genuinely happy to read and comment on other people’s work. And depending on what time you post your work, what hashtags you employ, and some other intangible factors, you might end up getting quite a bit of reception (I posted a short haiku, reluctantly, right before bed and woke up to over a thousand likes—as an ego-driven writer, this was very nice to see).
I’ve only had my account for about a month now, but I’ve met some very inspirational and helpful writers. We exchange contact information, wisdom about writing, what we’re reading, life stories—you name it—despite the fact that we’re complete strangers from different states or even different hemispheres.
I’ve also found that it keeps me writing. I write little things on napkins to post on my page. I scribble poetry on the back of receipts, even on the back of my hand if I have to. It’s new and exciting and I find myself enjoying writing these little blurbs that exist entirely independently of my main projects.
Finally, from a dry and utilitarian viewpoint, it’s a good way to build a following. In a world where writers have to be shameless and self-promoting, it is important not to rule anything out. A lot of the most prominent Instagram writers have thousands, tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of followers. It’s a no-brainer. If you ever have a book to promote, an Instagram page with a huge following is a perfect place to do it.
But at the simplest and most honest level, we write to be read. Posting to Instagram and slapping a #poetry in the caption is a good way to get people looking at your work. It’s a nice way to know that eyes other than yours will ever look upon your written words.
Keep U.P. Alive
Unsolicited Press is a beast that runs on good energy and dedicated editors and staff. Your donation helps pay these folks when books don't sell or we just break even. You see, our staff doesn't get paid until the bills and the authors are paid -- and sometimes that means we make pennies...we don't mind it, but your support really helps keep us afloat.
Order a Book, Save AN Author
You can buy our books through our website or from any major retailer in the nation. Some retailers take longer than others to acquire our books.
Subscribe or Die
Listen to Literature
Most of our editors cherish our subscription with Audible. Right now they are offering free trials and a free audiobook. This is a great place to listen to Baxter's "The Art of Subtext." Think about it.