To Be a Writer, Stop Complaining on the Internet
From reading internet comments on posts about writing, it would seem that writers don’t like getting advice. I saw one post on another platform yesterday asking for writers to comment with their least favorite writing advice. It was like the internet was begging for a terrible comment thread; and the internet delivered.
“Write everyday” was the most complained about advice. Also on the list was “create your own writing space,” “write what you know,” “kill your darlings,” and the opposite of writing advice, “Don’t bother writing because it’s impossible to publish anything.” All of these contain truth, but are cliché and become problematic when universalized. While it can be therapeutic (though usually not constructive) to complain on the internet, I’ve decided to write up my plans for my own writing practice. I invite you to read them, not as advice, but as one voice in a vast conversation about the writer’s life.
As a teacher of college composition, I often ask my students to share with the rest of the class what works for them when they write. And everyone usually has a different answer. Not everyone likes to outline or freewrite preliminary thoughts for a project. Not everyone needs silence to write; some need noise. My hope is that everyone understands that they’re not telling each other what to do, but sharing their experiences. Something they say might be helpful to someone else, by if it’s not, that’s okay too.
And so I give you some non-advice thoughts on how I intend to keep writing. If they are helpful to you, that’s great. If not, that’s okay too. I know the format of this article may cause some to roll your eyes: “Great! Another list article.” Just last night I was complaining to my students about how useless the list article genre has become. If you despise lists, no hard feelings. It’s just how these ideas came to me.
These are things that either have worked for me before or that I want to try for myself.
I intend to write every day for the foreseeable future. In my day job I teach writing precisely because I have been a writer for all of my teenage and adult life. I’m now in my mid-thirties and haven’t yet developed a robust, regular writing practice. Writing isn’t just my vocation, what I’m meant to do; it’s also my profession, what I choose to do and dedicate my waking hours to. Teaching is an important component of my writing profession, not because it pays the bills, but because it helps me see how valuable writing really can be. A regular writing habit will be the healthiest habit I’ve ever had. I’ve always dreamed of writing daily, because if there’s something you love to do, why not do it every day?
I will follow poet William Stafford’s advice and “lower my standards” of what constitutes good writing. Because I want to write every day, I’m not expecting continual high quality. As William Zinsser has said, “Writing is rewriting.” Sometimes just making a list or outline takes plenty of energy, and I can come back to it later. My daily reminder reads, “Write today for at least 5 minutes.” If I can get 5 minutes of writing done, I feel good. The expected time period may lengthen as I get used to it, but five minutes works for me now. And most of the time I end up writing for much, much longer. I sat down to write this article about twenty minutes ago, and I’ve got plenty of steam left. This article may not be any good, but it’s written. I wonder what I’ll write tomorrow.
I will find a local group of writers to think together about writing, and to give and receive feedback. When I was in grad school, the feedback I got from my classmates on my writing was hit or miss. This was no fault of my fellow writers, it’s just what happens in a class when you’re limited to whoever shows up. I have a colleague I regularly workshop stuff with, and it’s invaluable because we were friends already and have been sharing our work for nearly five years. But he lives on the west coast and I’m in the Midwest. I’ve decided to get in touch with a few writers in my own town. A group that gathers regularly in the local coffee shop or in living rooms has a different feel. I want a whole community of writers to encourage, celebrate, curse, cook, and create with.
I will use my writing to grow as a teacher of writing. A good teacher ideally has first-hand knowledge in their field. I spent much of my time as a student writing both academic and personal projects. My biggest project was a 100 page research thesis for grad school almost five years ago.
If I were to give up writing and just teach from here on out, I’d be giving up on the one thing I’m good at. Sure, I think I’m a good teacher, but only because I know about my subject from experience. If I were to forget what it felt like to string words together into blank space, I would become a terrible teacher. I know there are more ways to improve as a teacher, and I’m doing some of them, but I can’t afford to forget what it’s like do the very thing I’m teaching.
I will send out poems and articles to be published, and will develop material for readings, talks and workshops. If I’m a writer, I need to work toward completion so I can get my writing in front of readers. I’ve published some already, but I need to keep going, and maybe begin on my next major project. I also want to teach and give talks because it’s one more way to connect the often lonely work of a writer with other people. Getting my name out as a writer never hurts, but knowing that something I created is finished and in front of an audience is the most satisfying of all.
To be a writer, no one needs to do all of these things. But to make writing a profession, these are the priorities I’m setting for myself. What might your priorities be?