As a semi-official part of the &yet Blog Team and a super-official, semi-professional antagonizer, I spend a lot of time kicking in office doors and demanding that people write things. Some of those folks (once they’ve come to the realization that I will not stop making this pose in their doorframe)
But there are others.
There are a few folks, however, who inhabit a shadowy third group–a group that lies in the shaded penumbra between Does Write and Doesn’t. These few (and here I shall call them “thirdies,” if only because I like to assign monikers wherever possible) don’t actually NOT want to write, but are paralyzed by concerns regarding quality, length, grammar, diction, syntax, appropriateness of context, authorial voice, tenseness regarding tense changes, Fear of the Blank Page, surprise narcolepsy, and a whole, variegated rainbow of school-age phobias including but not limited to dangling participles, oxford commas, i before e except after c rules and, of course, the proper use of the word “peruse.”
Which is all bullshit, by the way.
“But why, Mike? Why do you say such things when I clearly am just not very good at writing, and am thus afraid that everyone is going to laugh at me, as suggested by Piper Laurie in the 1976 horror classic, Carrie?”
Listen. Hey. You’re looking at this all wrong.
When capital-W Writers write, they all claim to have a process. Some, like Stephen “pig blood and telekinesis” King writes with the door closed until the second draft. Nick “quite possibly Mike’s best friend but doesn’t quite know it yet” Harkaway writes with the door open. Me? I have my own prose process (although to be fair, some folks have their very own, kickass writing ways 'round here).
In short: the process is insane–and for anyone short of those lucky (very) few–a fool’s errand (Luckily I am just such a fool! Ha ha!). You have to either really REALLY want to do it, or be utterly immune to CRUSHING DISAPPOINTMENT.
But the problem there (other than my whiskey bill), is that the process and the people involved in it have thrown up this whole wall of mystique around the whole writing thing, and have thus turned the process by which thoughts become words into something that can seem very scary from the outside.
Odds are you already do this. Can you communicate with words in such a way that another human (or failing that, macaw and/or parrot) can understand you? Can you regularly convey ideas without having to resort to flash cards with groceries and stuff drawn on them? Then you already have the toolbox for writing prose.
Seriously. Just write like you talk. This is the internet age. The old ways are dying slowly. Folks use “ain’t” and “gonna” and “wtf” in common speech pretty much all the time these days. And if you use those things in spoken speech and then commit them to the page, then your writing is going to seem genuine and awesome. But if you try to write in such a way that impresses your 8th grade English teacher, then it’s going to suck. So don’t throw a bunch of em dashes and semicolons in there if you’re not comfortable with them; simplicity is always better in a pinch.
Like most of the thirdies I know, you probably like something. In fact, I am willing to bet that you’re crazy passionate about something. But for some reason, a lot of thirdies feel a degree of trepidation when it comes to sharing what they love. But passion–like your true voice in Step Two–shines through and makes any piece of writing more valuable than the sum of its parts. What’s more, there are probably plenty of other people out there who have the same passions you do, but who have a similar problem communicating, and thus feel isolated and weird because of it. So go on and share! This is the internet after all.
Writing is so much easier than it has ever been before. Seriously. Just try and misspell a word in Pages. It is so very difficult. Do you know what a pain in the ass it was to use a made up word like “thirdies” over and over again without adding it to the dictionary? A huge one is what.
And although it will make some purists out there apoplectic with blind, frothing rage, you should lean on the crazy ubiquitous tools out there to improve your writing. Use spell check. Use thesaurus.com. Phone a friend. Go to Grammar Girl and learn the difference between “affect” and “effect.” Basically, use a scintilla of that passion that you feel for X and apply an iota of it to research.
Okay. Like the man said, “do or do not” etc. Because dig this if you will: the first thing you write may be total crap. It may be the most terrible dreck that ever crawled ‘cross the page. It may be an affront to the literary gods in their book-smelling pantheon above.
But guess what: at least it’s something.
As a sometime editor, I can always massage grammar and syntax. I can fix tense changes and add capitalization where need be. Hell, in extreme circumstances, I can sit right down by you and talk you through the process of concrete-detail-supporting-argument-supporting-argument.
But I can’t.
If you don’t write, you don’t get better. You WON’T get better. And the sad part will be that your not-getting-better-ness won’t be from lack of talent, but from lack of trying.
And that is the saddest thing of all.
Some people can write and do. Which is fine. Some people can write and don’t. Also fine.
But some people (quite possibly like YOU) CAN write and maybe SHOULD write but don’t because of fear.
But seriously, screw fear.
You don’t need to write like me or like Stephen King or like Neil Gaiman or like Mrs. Frizzle or whomever.
Just write like you.
And maybe it will turn out great.
(P.S. and have that damn blog entry on my desk by 8 am tomorrow or SO HELP ME GOD. -M)