Skip to main content

Writing Things Down

·5 mins

Writing is not easy, and it’s easier for some than others. Personally I don’t find it hard to write about things that interest me, but I know some do. I suppose some types of writing are easier for me than others, i.e., I find writing fiction difficult, so I don’t do that. Perhaps I should try harder.

If I’m writing about a topic I’m interested in, I find the words flow easily. The main problem I have is that my fingers don’t go nearly as fast as my brain, so I sometimes lose the words before they hit the page. They often come back to me later, but not always.

As a student, I hated writing exercises, and I usually scored poorly on them. I think the main reason I disliked them is that the way writing is taught in schools is typically about following a rubric and set of rules. In the case of essay writing, you must follow a specific structure taught in the class, and failure to do so results in a poor grade. For creative writing or fiction, one must use the correct story structure and satisfy the number of words or pages that must be turned in to pass the assignment. Anything out of the ordinary is discouraged.

As a grown-up operating in the unreal world of the Internet and blogs, I would say there are no rules when it comes to writing, or any other creative endeavor for that matter.

Grammar, spelling, and so on are important, but they are not the most important part of writing, which is not how I was taught writing in school. In school, the focus is mostly on grammar and spelling as opposed to content. I do, however, remember a few occasions when I was lucky enough to get a good English teacher who helped foster the more creative aspects of writing, and I am grateful to those teachers.

I suppose that raises the question: what is the most important part of writing? I think the answer depends on who the writer is, what their goals are, and, to some degree, whether it’s what the readers want. You can write for yourself (i.e., private journal or diary entries) if you prefer, and maybe never read it back. You can also broadcast your ideas on the Internet and perhaps someday become a Thought Leader.

If you write for an audience and aim to communicate ideas, then the content is likely the most important aspect of your writing. If you write for yourself, then the act of writing itself is the most important part.

I learned a lot more about writing from reading than the actual practice of writing. It’s a lot like writing software in that the most important skill is not writing the software but reading and understanding other people’s code. The same is true for writing. The more you read, the better you will write.

Alas, you still have to do the writing. You can’t write without the writing. Same with exercising, drawing, painting, playing a musical instrument, writing software, or any other skill or talent or creative endeavor. You have to do the work, put in the hours, and struggle until you produce something you are proud of or maybe just something you can live with.

I’ve never liked my own writing. I dislike reading and editing what I write, and going back and reading my old writings is something I cringe at the thought of. For whatever reason, however, I keep writing, and people keep reading it. I suppose that’s a good thing, and I appreciate it, but I’m not proud of my writing.

Writing is hard; it’s not easy to structure your thoughts and put them into words so that others can not only comprehend the words on the page but understand the thoughts in your brain the way you intend them to be understood. Communication is not easy, most people (in my experience) suck at it, and the main reason they suck is that they either don’t say what they really want to say or they don’t say it in a way that the other person can understand, or they don’t say anything at all. And then, there are some people who treat communication as an exercise in manipulation as opposed to a way to share ideas.

The purpose of language is to be understood, and we place a lot of emphasis on rules and structure and correctness, but these things are secondary to the main purpose (communicating ideas). That’s not to say I’m anti-grammar or whatever, but you should never get hung up on such things if they get in the way of your message. In fact, incorrectness can be a powerful tool in writing as part of your style if you choose. Some of my favourite books used incorrect grammar and spelling to great effect.

The neat thing about writing is that so long as the reader gets what you want them to get from reading your writing, you are succeeding (assuming you want anyone reading it at all). In the case where you’re writing strictly for the act of it, then the only thing that matters is that you did the writing. Everything else be damned.

I write both for the act of writing and for the act of communicating ideas. Sometimes, it’s incredibly helpful to put words to paper (digital paper) as a way to work through my thoughts. The mere act of choosing words and forming sentences helps congeal the ideas in my brain into a solid form. Forming the right sentences to describe a thing and communicate it to someone else brings you clarity. It’s a form of catharsis, and it’s a good way to work through problems or ideas (in addition to speaking and discussing with people about problems and ideas).

It’s become a bit of a Thought Leader cliché to blog about writing, so I guess I’m part of the problem, but perhaps they’re onto something.