What Writing Reveals

Point Of View

The best writers often reveal something about themselves in a way that is completely, authentically their own.  They possess an ineffable quality that’s hard to pin down, but you know it when you encounter it.  Their writing feels charged, more alive.  These writers spent enough time honing their craft that it’s now automatically imbued with some fundamental essence — a viewpoint utterly unlike anyone else’s.

And I don’t think we can speed up the process of finding this quality within ourselves: our genuine voice.

I’m not there yet.  But each time I engage in the act of writing, I feel like I get to know who I am a little better, on a deeper level.  I peel back the layers of myself to uncover new truths.  It’s all lying there, beneath the surface, waiting to be mined.  What do I think?  How do I think?  What am I trying to say?  Who am I writing for and why?

The more I write, the more I’m continually surprised by how mysterious writing can be.

Writer at a typewriter

The Process

Sometimes I’ll sit down to begin and instantly have a small spark of an idea that triggers a chain reaction.  My fingers can barely clack the keys fast enough to keep up with my racing, unfurling thoughts.  The goal at this point is to pour everything onto the page and then clean up the mess later once it’s all out there.

At other times, I sit down to write and I squirm.  Nothing comes easy.  My ideas feel weak, completely unoriginal; or worse, they’re nonexistent.  My mind is distressingly empty and I can feel the minutes slip away.  I get self-conscious about how little I’ve actually written.  This is when I turn to some of the tips and tricks for overcoming writer’s block I’ve come across over the years.  Things like:

  • doing a five minute “free write”: I set a timer and type whatever I’m thinking without stopping, even if it’s just writing “I don’t know what to write” over and over until another thought takes its place
  • purposely writing something bad: the worse it is, the better.  Bring on the shit.
  • rapidly brainstorming ideas: writing a one or two sentence synopsis of each idea, and then quickly moving on to another one.  Go for quantity over quality to keep things moving.
  • making up a story about whatever’s going on right in front of me at the moment
  • writing song lyrics or free verse poetry
  • writing about something that made me mad or annoyed recently: for some reason, venting can really make the words flow.  Maybe I’m just an angry prick, I don’t know.

Usually, one of these methods will at least get some words on the page for the day.  That’s my main goal at this point, to stick with the writing habit no matter how uncomfortable.  Each time I sit down to write, I’m going on an interior journey that takes me somewhere I haven’t been before.  And I’m still feeling the growing pains.

Keep Writing

I marvel at how the actual act of writing forces me to confront myself in ways that nothing else does.  I may start writing something funny that evolves into a more sober, serious reflection the longer I sit with it.  Or the reverse happens: I’ll begin with a deep, controversial issue that slowly fades into a more wide-ranging, humorous piece about the absurdities of life and how it’s our job, as humans, to navigate and make sense of these absurdities.

Essentially, there’s always this gap between what I set out to write and what I end up with.  The distance between these two points is the writing process itself.  It’s where you work through each idea, word by lonely word.  No shortcuts.  And no one can do it for you.

There’s nowhere to hide.  It’s just you, alone with your thoughts, left to grapple with how you feel and what you want to say.  Writing is your chance to show us who you really are.