If a writer writes alone…

I haven’t written in years. Mostly. Since high school, anyway, I’ve never sat down and really written anything. Oh, there have been essays, articles, promotional ad copy, technical manuals, but all of that was for assignment. For school, for work, for others. Nothing for me.

Writing is a funny thing, at least when I set my mind to it. Because the truth is, I like to write. I actually love it. I love the satisfaction from seeing any sort of well-crafted message grace the page (screen, sorry – old-school habits die hard), and I’m a person who can be perfectly happy carrying on a half-hour debate about the merits of the serial comma.

Perhaps some background.

I think of myself as an editor, mostly. Even when I write, I think I’m editing. I’ve always been more comfortable working with someone else’s ideas, helping to flesh them out, give them shape and see them to fruition. It’s not a bad role to be in, really – the world needs good editors, people who can see the forest for the trees and all that. And can we honestly say that the last three Harry Potter books had a good editor hovering over Rowling’s shoulder? (Short answer: no.) I like being able to stand back, see the potential, prune away the excess and deliver a perfectly manicured bonsai tree of a project to whomever needed it done.

You might not think that applies to sitting down and being the primary writer, but it does. What’s that, boss? You need an article on space monkeys in the voice of The Walrus? I can see the content, shapeless, as though somebody else had already written the piece (badly) and just need a good editor (me) to pull it together (disclosure: I never wrote any such article). Consider the audience, the publication, adapt the tone and style, and boom: article produced. I may have cobbled together the words from nothing, but was it writing? Is writing still writing if you approach it as a problem to solve instead of a process of creation?

Which brings me to why I haven’t “written” in years, and to why I gave up my last blog after two dismal posts, and without having told anyone I’d started it in the first place (sorry, Blogspot). Writing for yourself is a very solitary exercise. Writing for others is not; it’s social. I may come at it from a problem-solving, editorial standpoint, but there’s something comforting about knowing that what you’ve written will be recognized by someone, mainly because they asked you to write it in the first place. What you’ve created exists, measured against criteria put in place by someone else. It’s validating.

Writing for yourself – oh, who am I kidding, writing for myself – is isolating. There are no standards to go by; it’s all subjective. What I write may never see the light of day. Maybe nobody will ever read my blog (I swear, I’m not usually this melodramatic). If I write alone, do I make a difference?

Here goes the assumption that yes. Yes, I do. Bothering to put my thoughts down for no other purpose than to have done it at all involves a kind of work I don’t put in when writing on assignment. Hopefully I’ll get comfortable enough with my own voice that I’ll stop stopping myself and start starting more often.

And maybe I’ll learn what I want to write about, too. And how I want to write about it. You know, pare away the excess. Focus on what’s important. Edit.

I started writing a short story recently. My first creative endeavour in over a decade. Cheers to whatever the heck it winds up being.

~Mike!

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