This is the “Flash-Non-Fiction” Challenge from Chuck Wendig. The subject: “WHY I WRITE,” in 1000 words. Here’s what I came up with!
I love the challenge of writing and editing. There’s a formula to every formal document and letter. There are facts to verify, corrections to be made, and biases to keep in-check.
When I was in college, I fully appreciated honest peer reviews in my writing workshops. That strong base has helped improve my own word-smithing and taught me how to provide helpful critiques when I edit someone else’s work. Recently, I helped to edit my brother’s doctoral thesis and found the project to be both challenging and enjoyable. He was happy with my work, his mentors were happy with my work, and I felt validated in my choice of education.
There are feelings and mental blocks that I still have to push through. I get in my own way and stop writing. I have a bad habit of putting my own fun and goals on the back burner because these dark little doubts in my brain tell me they may not ever be profitable enough to support having a family or paying off debts. The path I want to go down is puddled with unknowns and monsters. I timidly dip a toe in now and again before skirting back to the safety of the tasks I know I can do well, even though they may not be pushing me towards my goals. There is always this lingering fear that I’m actually a fraud. Fear that, once I’ve devoted massive amounts of time and effort into my beloved projects, I’ll find out that I can never do them justice and that I’m actually terrible at this activity I adore. No one can criticize my work if it’s still in my head. They are perfect idea-apparitions shrouded in unknown endings because I’m scared to commit them to paper. I’m afraid that one of us will let the other down.
That’s not how growth works. Allowing my writing to be bad is one of the hardest things I’m still working to overcome. I can tolerate receiving and dishing out critiques and edits, but the thought of writing something mediocre or something that should be scrapped entirely triggers my “flight” response and I have to struggle to “fight” instead.
I have to remind myself why I should be writing. Honestly, it makes me feel better. I have a journal I write in sometimes when I’m feeling especially cranky and overwhelmed. I should be writing in it when good things happen, too. It’s a great way to blow off steam and get some self-perspective. Looking back through them, the things I would write seemed petty or whiny. But it’s still important to let those feelings out somewhere. They just happen and they need an outlet or misery will blow up and ruin your month.
There have been several times in my life where I discovered that I enjoyed writing stories. I saved a journal entry from when I was in grade school. I had just finished reading, Harriet the Spy, and vowed to carry a notebook everywhere because I wanted to be a writer one day and, “WE SAW A PRAIRIE DOG!” I was easily distracted.
One year in grade school, we were supposed to write a complete story for class. I’m pretty sure mine was a week late, not because I was procrastinating or slacking off, but because I couldn’t find a way to end my story. It was about a softball game and there was too much to tell! My mom always seemed proud of that.
Middle school and high school were full of online diary accounts full of poetry. Batches of it must have been bad, but I always received encouragement from the online communities. They were supportive and understanding. I still have many of my poems printed out and hidden away even though the accounts are long-gone.
In early high school, I tried writing a fantasy story on my own and realized just how derailed a story can be by too much focus on surrounding details. You really don’t need half of a page describing the foliage that an elf is walking through.
My freshman year, we had a semester-long writing project to compile for my English class. My teacher left a heartfelt note on mine saying it was some of the best writing she had seen. External validation is great for a little while, but self-doubt always managed to creep in. Perhaps, “she was just saying that,” or, “maybe she only reads crappily done writing assignments.”
I took AP English courses throughout high school. The teachers who taught me the most about non-fiction writing and essays were the teachers who I didn’t appreciate until I was out of their classes. I can remember diving into research for a persuasive essay against the death penalty. I felt proud and accomplished of what I had done until I got the essay back, it was covered in red, and it was the first C- I had ever received. That stung for a while; I can remember watching Finding Forester and becoming enraged by what a jerk Sean Connery’s character was to the kid who had tried so hard to write stuff–I was dealing with flashbacks from that assignment.
I didn’t realize writing was a valid life choice until my junior year of college. I was forced to finally declare a major and found “Creative Writing” was a legitimate option. The first intro course I took was taught by a great instructor who was extremely honest and informative when giving feedback. I learned the best way to improve your own writing is by offering suggestions to improving others’. You don’t just say, “this part sucks,” but offer an alternative to improve the piece.
I continued through good and bad writing courses, my poetry teachers and I never really saw eye-to-eye, and I always worked on my assignments in boring classes and at home. One thing has always been consistent for me, I’m always happier when I write. It should be a higher priority for me.