Why write?

Writer’s block

Part 1 of a series. If you want to skip to today’s answer, scroll to somewhere in the middle.

When you write a sentence, you are packaging a thought. Your brain collaborates with your body to put an idea on paper in the best way it can. The very act of writing something readable — with narrative, structure, and internal logic — requires thoughts to be thought to completion.

Writer’s Block is a well-known phenomenon. “An author loses the ability to produce new work, or experiences a creative slowdown”.

But I think of it differently.

To me, Writer’s Block is what occurs when there are too many ideas. A backlog of thoughts that haven’t been thought through properly. A creative fatberg, clogging up the channels your ideas usually flow through.

Credit: The Guardian

Devoting time and resource to all of them becomes impossible; if they are not tackled individually, the result is inaction.

This definition doesn’t line up with any others, and could by rights be called wrong. But it fits with something I’ve experienced myself, multiple times.

Perfect cannot be the enemy of the good.

This quote — a slightly bastardised version of Voltaire’s “the best is the enemy of the good” — hints at one of the reasons why ideas don’t get tackled individually. And, by extension, why my Writer’s Block occurs.

To properly make this point, here are the answers to the question “why write?” that I’m trying to communicate in this piece:

  • Writing brings clarity
  • It feels nice
  • It is rewarding
  • It helps you work through and refine ideas
  • Doing it makes you better at it

Notice how “achieve perfection” is not on the list. It would be absent at any level of examination. It is not a realistic, desirable, or even achievable goal.

Yet not having a perfect piece of writing ready to commit to paper can (and has) put me off of sitting down to write. In certain mindsets the thought of figuring out what I want to say and how best to say it stifles me completely. This sets a precedent that gains momentum: you let it win just a couple of times and it becomes a real chore to make yourself write anything at all.

When your reason for writing is to enjoy doing something you enjoy, to improve at it, and to figure things out in the process, it becomes less daunting.

It becomes inviting.

And these things can take place on a micro or macro scale.

Micro.

Check out this sentence from earlier:

Your brain collaborates with your body to put an idea on paper in the best way it can.

That was how my brain and body put that idea on paper about seven minutes ago. Looking back now, would it be better as “your brain and body collaborate to put an idea on paper in the best way they can”?

This version emphasises the teamwork, and gives brain and body a more equal share of the prize.

And would “work together” beat “collaborate”? It’s more familiar phrasing, although maybe one which rolls off the tongue not quite as nicely.

Your brain and body work together to put an idea on paper in the best way they can.

There are a lot of articles: and, to, an, on, in, the. Would dropping the penultimate one help the sentence flow better?

Your brain and body work together to put an idea on paper, the best way they can.

This tweaking happens subconsciously, initially. You turn over words, line them up in different orders, separate them out with various punctuation, and find a version you’re happy with.

Then you read back. You edit and tweak. Bits get deleted, paragraphs move from one part of the page to another when you realise they fit better at that part of the idea’s exposition. All the while you’re refining your ability to write, phrase, and structure ideas.

Macro.

This refinement of ability and thoughts continues when you move upward from sentences and paragraphs, too.

The writing you’ve just read is one piece of a mental jigsaw that I spend a lot of time trying to put together. I write professionally, and I feel proud to say that. I often find myself thinking what motivates me to do it.

Any clarity on that question ever-so-slightly vindicates my decision to write. It increases my confidence in my output, whether professional or personal. I can take those feelings of vindication and confidence into conversations that might lead to work.

When I sat down to write this all I had were: my incorrect definition of Writer’s Block, a bastardised Voltaire quote, an urge to write about why I want to write, and the image of trying different words on like clothes in an outfit (this part didn’t make the final cut).

Everything else revealed itself while writing.

Each idea in this piece has been removed — for now — from the Writer’s Block inducing fatberg.

Thanks for reading.