162. A Day in the Life of a Writer

Today’s post was written by Josh “The Scholar” Hamm. For more great stuff from Josh, check out his previous guest post for this blog!

“I don’t know why you would be reading this. I don’t know why anyone would be reading this.”

That’s the kind of thing I tend to think others would say when they read my work. I’ve been writing for a long time. I still have the first story I wrote when I was six, a story brilliantly titled “A Knight at Night.”

At least that explains why I’ve always had a penchant for bad puns.

But even with all the writing I’ve done, and all the reading, and deciding that I wanted to be a writer since I was fifteen, I am a terrible writer.

Well, at least I tend to think of myself as a terrible writer. I have somewhat of a self-confidence problem regarding my writing. For the longest time, I wouldn’t let anyone read anything I wrote.

I lived in a state of fear that whatever I did would be mocked by others.

I could live with criticism in essays and such, but in creative works, if anything other than my grammar was corrected without helpful advice on how to improve, I felt hurt. Like my work was worthless drivel.

The problem is that I couldn’t accept praise either. I came to a point where I didn’t think that any work of mine is good enough to receive compliments.

But the real reason I was scared of writing, and of being praised for my writing, is because I was completely terrified that I wouldn’t be able to meet people’s expectations.

My solution?

I stopped writing.

Because if I don’t write, then I can’t suck at writing, because I haven’t written anything to be judged.

Yes, of course, absolutely brilliant. I should give myself a pat on the back for that
idea. Genius.

So I can go around thinking in my head, “Yeah, I’m a writer—maybe even a good writer if I try.” But I don’t try because I’m scared of not being a good writer. See the problem here? If I don’t write, I’m a bad writer, but I don’t write because I’m scared of being a bad writer.

The irony is hilarious. I love it.

So I started writing again. I write personal essays, music and movie reviews. I write about culture, society, religion, philosophy. I’ve started two novels (and have twenty thousand words in one) and various short stories. Some of it makes to my blog, some of it doesn’t.

And guess what?

Almost everything I write is awful.

And I’m (almost) completely all right with that.

Writing isn’t something you can just be good at. No one can write a bestselling novel without a bit of practice. Sure, some people have natural talent, but it’s worthless without practice.

Even though lots of authors like to look smart and say they write things on a whim, inspired by their muse on the “viewless wings of poesy,” nine out of ten times it takes months or years of hard work.

Many renowned English poets claim to be inspired by a moment of nature and able to write an entire poem in a single sitting.

Coleridge claimed this for his poem “The Eolian Harp,” but he actually spent twenty-five years editing and refining it. William Butler Yeats published poems and then tinkered with them throughout his life.

Alexander Pope, in an excerpt from “An Essay on Man,” writes:

“True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, / As those move easiest who have learn’d to dance.”

What I’m trying to say is that you’re not a writer just because you say you are. You actually have to write.

Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it makes you competent. Your first book is not going to be a bestseller, your blog isn’t going to be frequented by millions of people, and you’re not going to be rich and famous, but you may get good enough to make a living doing something you love. That’s my dream: to make a living writing in some form or fashion.

If you share a similar vision, you have to stop being passive and take action: Write, write, read, write, read, and write some more.

It can’t hurt. Unless you get carpal tunnel syndrome. That might hurt a bit.

And here are some words of wisdom from one of my favourite writers, Thomas Merton:

“If you write for God you will reach many men and bring them joy. If you write for men—you may make some money and you may give someone a little joy and you may make a noise in the world, for a little while. If you write for yourself, you can read what you yourself have written and after ten minutes you will be so disgusted that you will wish that you were dead.”

Keep that in mind when you’re writing.

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