I know, guys. I’m the worst. Admittedly, Spiderman is pretty entertaining… but likely not enough so to keep you occupied for my entire – GASP – two week absence.
This month has just been so unbelievably jam-packed busy with multiple weekend trips to Seattle, a houseguest, and my brand new job… that I don’t even know where to begin.
OH WAIT, yes I do. I’ll start with the brand new job thing.
For those who haven’t been around lately, I recently got a new job. A writing job. And 2.5 months in, I’m still in a state of disbelief. Every time I get a new assignment I’m still so honored – “You want ME to come up with your company’s new tagline? Really?! You want ME to write the story of your business? You want MY WORDS smeared all over your website?” And I have to constantly remind myself – oh RIGHT, that’s my job. I get paid to write words. And it’s just so crazy fantastic that I’m practically beside myself.
It hasn’t all been easy, though. Until recently, the only people reading my writing were my friends and family… well, and anyone with access to an internet connection. But in any case, there wasn’t much reason for those readers to revise or critique, and a majority of the feedback I received was overwhelmingly positive. I happily labored under the delusion that everyone in the world was as enamored with my writing as my mother was.
But now, when people are actually paying for this service, there is (obviously) a much higher standard at play. Which means that the last 2.5 months have involved an awful lot of learning – both about writing and life in general. So much so, in fact, that I compiled a list of all the things I’ve learned. And so, without further ado…
The Things I’ve Learned About Writing (And Life)
Know the “why.” Everything you do – in writing and in life – should have a purpose. I learned this right away in this new job, when my boss would ask me, “Why did you choose to phrase it this way? Why did you put the paragraphs in this order? How did you decide on this flow of concepts?” And all I could do was stare at her, mouth agape, and say “Ummm… cuz that’s… how… I wrote it.” Never before had I been asked to explain my reasoning behind my writing, so logically, never before had I devoted much thought to the strategy behind it. Make every decision intentional.
Embrace rejection. This was the first – and hardest – lesson to learn. I’m still learning it. I might never stop learning it. Rejection is a huge part of human existence, both inside the writing world and out. You will get rejected. You will receive criticism. Learn how to cope with it, and then learn how to run with it. Rejection is your friend; perfection leaves no room for growth.
…But still be confident. Having understood the frequency and necessity of rejection, I started presenting my writing with a disclaimer: “Here’s this blog post. But you probably won’t like it. And if so I understand, and I can change it.” It was a weird protective mechanism that helped me preemptively cope with criticism. Maybe if I tell them I don’t like it, it’ll be easier to swallow when they agree with me? But it meant setting myself up for failure – the person reading it might have loved it with no preface, but now they’ve been predisposed to think it’s crap. Ergo, self-fulfilling prophecy. Present yourself with confidence.
Don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s tempting to get caught up in big words and compound sentences that make your writing sound robust and sophisticated. But as one of the co-founders of my company puts it, “forget most of English 101.” At the end of the day, you’re still writing to a person. Be human. Use contractions. Indulge in the occasional grammar mistake. End sentences with prepositions. (As Winston Churchill said, “that rule is something up with which I will not put.”) Writing – like life – is supposed to be fun.
Just do it. Nike had this one right on the money. If you’re staring at a blinking cursor, or aren’t sure what to say or how to write something, the quickest way to get started… is to get started. Even if you’re not 100% sure of your direction yet, start typing. A brain dump will at least get the ball rolling, and will eventually morph into something cohesive. Don’t let the blank page intimidate you.
Give the Nutshell Version. This is something my big brother used to say to me when I was younger and telling a long story (which, ahem, might have happened once or twice…). Upon the third or fourth “Which reminds me!” he would interrupt me with “Susie. Susie. Nutshell version.” In other words, get to the goddamn point. One of my favorite books, Eat Pray Love, puts it a little more nicely with ‘Say it like you eat it’: “Keep your language as simple and direct as Roman food. Don’t make a big production out of it. Just lay it on the table.”
I would be lying if I tried to say I’ve mastered this particular writing skill – and, moreover, I wouldn’t be fooling anyone. I just can’t help it, I want to get every last detail onto the page. Having to discriminate between words and paragraphs and decide what’s absolutely necessary and what’s not is like asking a mother to choose between her children. And I’m not the only writer in history to feel this way – Mark Twain once said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”
But it’s a skill that needs mastering, because I’ve likely lost half my readers already. So I’ll stop there, and I won’t make a big production out of the rest of this (ongoing) list. So there you have it – everything I’ve learned about writing and life.
…Or at least the nutshell version.