Monday, February 8, 2021

On Writing Pt. 4: Why I Write


I’m finally at a point where I can tackle some of the more personal reasons in the “Why I Write” series. Not that I wasn’t able to talk about this back in 2018 when I started this series, but time and introspection have given me a better grasp and hopefully a more relatable way to communicate this topic. I have prefaced other posts with the disclaimer that what I write is often subjective and is based on my own personal experiences. This post will definitely fall into that area. I don’t want to assume that what works for me will work for everyone. I’m basing all of this on my own experiences, and to be brutally honest these reasons don’t even always work for me, but they’ve worked more often than not and have generally helped me.

I’ll start at an easier place in terms of the reasons of why I write. Enjoyment, pleasure, and fun are all very much reasons why I write. I get a LOT of joy from writing. Both the physical process of putting words on paper and the mental process of compiling ideas, strategizing and crafting an outline. All of these engage my brain in a way that has always been fun. I know full-well that many people will find this taxing even to the point of anger, but for me, there are few other activities I find as enjoyable as writing. It’s one of the reasons large writing projects for school were never a chore for me, I thoroughly enjoyed the task to the point where my teachers starting giving me very strict word count restrictions.

I think one of the reasons I’m good at my job is the enjoyment I get out of writing. I’ve never looked at the correlation between job satisfaction and job performance, but I like my job and I think a big part of that is because I get to do something I enjoy. It’s not a chore to come to work and while I don’t get joy from doing inventory, planning product releases, or inspecting and assembling pens; I do get joy from writing the blog, newsletter, and product descriptions. My love of writing has definitely helped keep me sane and engaged at a few different jobs, and I like to think my employers have benefitted from this skill.

Even though I enjoy writing on a visceral level, I’m still plagued with a lot of insecurities. “Is this good enough?”, “No one is going to care.”, “Does this make sense?”, “I’m never going to finish this story/book/paper.”, and “I just don’t have it in me, I’ll never succeed” are just a few of the myriad of negative thoughts that beat back my writing and sometimes tamp down my enjoyment. It’s a battle to fight through a negative headspace, I’m well aware of how hard you have to fight to get through it. Having spent a lot of my life fighting battles of all kinds, I know this type of combat is one of the hardest to win. It’s why I’m such a huge proponent of finding the tools that help you win. It doesn’t have to be a pen, it could be colored pencils and brown paper bags, a typewriter, or a sharpie and a piece of cardboard. If you can find the right “weapons” to take to this battle, they’ll help you persevere.

I’ll be the first to admit, it’s not ALWAYS going to be fun. I don’t always write for enjoyment. Sometimes I write just for catharsis. In fact, there have been huge portions of my life where writing was solely something I did as a form of therapy. Before I ever saw a therapist, I was using the process of writing as a way to process grief, pain, loss, and trauma. I think I was a teenager when I began employing this method of therapy-via-writing. I used it quite a bit when I was in the Army, but by then it was at the direction of a therapist. While I highly recommend using writing in this fashion, it’s even more useful when done in conjunction with a therapist of some kind helping to wade through the sometimes overwhelming amount of “stuff” that’s written down.

I’m also grateful to be at a place where I can now go back and read some of what I’ve written and learn from it. Identify the negativity or things in my life that were impacting my mental state through the words I wrote and use it to help navigate future situations where I could possibly run into the same problems. For a long time, I was “fire-and-forget” when it came to writing. I didn’t go back and read what I’d written, or if I did it was right after I wrote it down and it was still too raw for me to get much out of it. I didn’t go back months or years later and read the pages because I thought it would be too hurtful of an experience. I’ve learned that for me, it can be extremely beneficial to come back and read what I wrote in 2018, 2010, or way back in 1996. I have to be in a good space when I do this, otherwise it can turn into an exercise of just bashing my old self, but if I come into it from a desire to learn from past mistakes or places of harm then it can be very helpful.

I’ve used journaling, poetry, prose, short stories, and even writing prompts to process grief, loss, abandonment, depression, loneliness, failure, and a vast array of other painful emotional and mental situations. I wrote every day when I was deployed to Iraq during my second tour in 2005-2006. Mostly poetry and short stories that dealt heavily with loss, fear, loneliness, and anger while at the same time running an Operations Center and leading several soldiers. It’s my opinion that my writing allowed me to be a better leader and to do my job better; that not keeping all of that bottled up inside allowed me to focus on the mission. Looking back, it’s surreal to think that I spent most of my downtime writing some really raw personal experiences, but it allowed me to then work 12-16 hours a day and not be distracted.

So far, I’ve covered the opposite spectrums of why I write in terms of emotions and headspace. I’ll finish up with a different look at it. Another very real reason in terms of why I write is just the amount of stuff I have in my head at any given time. I’ve mentioned having a pretty big imagination in other posts, and that’s definitely part of it. I’m constantly thinking of ideas for stories. They pop into my head at random times, mostly unbidden. If I allow them, they’ll take over almost all of my thoughts throughout the day. I can remember times when I worked retail where I’d spend an entire 8-hour shift working through an idea that grew into a story. Covering characters, dialogue, plot structure, etc. eventually simply playing the story in my head as if I was reading it, from start to finish. If the story was good enough, I’d start the process over the next day with this story playing in my brain like an audiobook. I can build entire stories this way, developing them and nurturing them as if they’re a living thing inside my head. The problem with this overactive imagination is that while I have these massive stories complete or nearly complete in my head, it’s a daunting task to transfer them to written form. I continue to try to write them down, in bits and pieces because it’s so overwhelming at times. This is the hardest part for me, knowing that I will probably never get all the words out onto the page.

But it’s not just story and plot. I can be pretty opinionated; though I try to hold that side of myself in. I’ll read something and start crafting a response or rebuttal. I’ll be at work reading through articles on writing, marketing, or something similar, and I’ll get a bit fired up, my brain will start working through what I’d say in response to parts of the article. There’s only so much space inside my head, and getting that stuff out onto paper helps free up my mental RAM. Plus, in these situations, it’s usually pretty healthy to get my opinions written down, and then most of the time I end up tossing them in the trash. So much of this type of writing is a knee-jerk response to something I don’t agree with and while it’s helpful to get it written down, it’s not always healthy to share it with anyone. So I end up deleting or tossing this type of response in the trash.

Writing is a lot of things to me, and I know that what I write isn’t going to be for everyone. My audience is pretty small, sometimes my audience is just me. But I’m okay with that. Even if what I’ve written is never read by another person, the process is genuinely helpful for a variety of reasons. I’ve come to think of writing as not just a chore, it’s become a part of me. It’s an integral part of who I am, a natural extension of thinking. It’s also become intertwined with how I speak. Writing has made me a better speaker and a more capable communicator. It’s interesting to see just how impactful writing has been on my life. It’s made me a better thinker, improved my ability to reason, helped me develop as a problem solver, assisted in my growth as a leader, changed how I communicate, helped me process emotions both good and bad, and become so present in all of my life that it’s hard to think of life without it.

This is just one part of the puzzle of Why I Write. Hopefully, my musings help you in your own journey to put “pen to paper”. Until next time, keep writing.


No comments:

Post a Comment