“With writing, I find, you can have all the right ingredients, give plenty of time and care, and still get nothing.” — John Irving, The World According to Garp
A friend compared my life, as written in this story, to a John Irving novel directed by Richard Linklater. He’s an avid reader, film buff, and an English teacher — and particularly particular, so I appreciated his comparison.
I also realized, as we texted about it, I worked more than usual on that piece. And, that, for the most part, I don’t give myself a lot of time to work on the essays and stories that are in my head.
I write for work. It’s mostly copywriting, internal communications, health education, and leadership ghostwriting, but it’s a huge part of my day.
The words for work come easily: they flow and people say, ‘‘I can’t believe how quickly and well that was written. How do you do it?’’
Truth is, I’m not sure how I do it — I just do. I started to think this morning: If I could translate this work efficiency to my own voice and my own words, what could I accomplish?
1A — Work: I write ALMOST every day — five to six days a week.
The words flow at work, I’m assuming, because I’ve written for this organization for nearly a decade. The topics vary and the angle depends on the audience or the person for whom I’m ghostwriting, but the ideas, the general brand voice, and the goals are similar.
Writing these things have become second nature. I’m given the bones and create the being. The more I create, the more I can create, the quicker I create, and, strangely, the better each is.
1B — My Own Writing: I write when I can.
2A — Work: The voice isn’t mine. I’m anonymous.
I do own part of the voice — I helped establish the brand’s voice at my organization. But it’s not my own voice. This isn’t ‘me’ writing — I am writing as the ‘company’.
The words I write each day may hold importance to me: I want them to live well, to explain appropriately, to show passion, and engage the audience. And, I have a personal pride attached to them. But MY voice, MY being isn’t attached to them.
2B — My Own Writing: It is my voice and I’m not anonymous — whatever the quality of the writing says, it says it about me.
3A — Work: Write. Fail. Repeat.
I didn’t start out with this ability to just knock out copy or ghostwritten op-eds — I wrote and was redlined by my bosses OFTEN. Then, I became the redliner. My writing became the example.
Failure was the only way for me to be a successful writer at work. My comfort with failure at work keeps me employed; I’m never ashamed by my mistakes, blunders, failings in my work world. After all, there really isn’t a success without a fail — you won’t know what success looks like if you don’t know what failure looks like.
“If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.” — Thomas J. Watson, Former IBM CEO
3B — My Own Writing: If it seems like a fail, delete, delete, delete. For the love of all that is good in this world: delete it! If it’s not too bad, maybe put it in the “Random Crap” folder. But whatever you do: do not, I repeat, do NOT share until you believe it’s perfect.
This essay isn’t what I thought it was.
When I started writing this essay, I seriously thought it was going to be about my struggle for time for my own writing. I mean, time is a beautiful excuse.
Then, I thought it was about the difficulty of doing what I love when what I love is a part of my job: I spend everyday writing for someone else and, boy, are my fingers tired.
Yes, it’s true: I need to make more time to write my own story and, yes, it’s also true that I do happen to write a lot for others. BUT if my goal is to write my story, then these are not really standing in my way.
The real issue is about perfection and shame. Shame that my words aren’t well-strung, my stories aren’t well-crafted, that I’m no English major therefore I can’t remember what an adverb is. (And, is it okay, nowadays, to just end my sentence with a preposition?)
(And who wants to read my voice anyway?)
(Also, what IS my voice?)
“I went for years not finishing anything. Because, of course, when you finish something you can be judged.” ― Erica Jong
I don’t know what my definition of perfect writing is — I just know I struggle to achieve it before letting go of any of my own writing. I don’t want to dissect my idea of ‘perfect’; that would be an essay on its own, if not a series of very thick, and probably pretty boring, books.
I do, however, want to challenge myself to work past this barrier, this need to not fail in my OWN writing. And, so, I’m going to borrow a tactic from work and challenge myself to achieve some reasonable goals over the next six months:
- Plot it out: Develop the outline of the larger story I want to tell
- Develop my voice: Spend 30 minutes a day — at least, writing my own work; tether the writing to the outline of my story, if I can
- Build confidence: Take an online grammar course
- Open up: Find a fellow writer whom to review/critique/share ideas
- Post weekly: Get my real stuff out of my safety net, “Random Crap” folder, and out into the reading-verse
I’ve been writing since I was six. This journey of finding, owning, and proudly sharing my own writing voice and actually letting it be free has been long — and (surprise, surprise) it’s nowhere near finished. It’s time for me to give it the attention it’s screaming to receive and see what happens next.