For me, writing is a personal endeavor. As much as I enjoy hearing responses to my writing, it’s not about building an audience or imparting wisdom. It’s about learning to express myself in the purest way possible and to say exactly what I mean.
Writing is an approximation. That’s what’s so agonizing about it. The first time I think of something, I’m not thinking in words — few people do. We think in fleeting feelings, in abstractions that are lost as soon as we lose focus. If I forget a train of thought, I have to hope that retracing my steps will lead me back to that same idea. Using words as a net to capture ideas before they escape is the only way I can record them faithfully. Sometimes, I’m successful and I perfectly distill the essence of my thoughts with precisely the right words. Most of the time, I fail. And it kills me that I can’t figure out the exactly right way to convey to another human being what’s so clear in my mind. It kills me even more that if I get it wrong, I might not even be able to understand my own mindset later on.
Sometimes, I know that I’m finished writing something not because I expressed my thoughts completely, but because I just couldn’t express them any better. Even when I write something that strikes a chord with other people, I feel disappointed because what I wrote is just an attempt to reproduce an entire thought process and I can barely ever get it right. It’s like that frustration you feel when you’re trying to tell a friend something, and all you can say is “You know?” and hope that they know, even if they can’t put it into words either. But imagine that feeling, more intensely, and for nearly everything I write.
When I read articles or books, sometimes I come across whole sentences and paragraphs that touch me in the most indescribable way. They’ve achieved this goal of perfectly transmitting one person’s thoughts into another person’s mind, just using the ambiguous medium of language. My heart skips into my throat and my mind races because I feel as though I can hear exactly what they were thinking when they wrote it. I want to reach that level, to look at something I’ve written and know that I successfully converted my thoughts from that low-level, sub-linguistic part of my mind into something that can resonate with a reader and produce the same ideas for them.
That’s why I write as much as possible, and why I would encourage anyone who has ever even considered writing to do the same. It doesn’t necessarily have to be public, but writing prolifically is the only way to improve. It doesn’t matter if you don’t think you have anything to say. The things I write on this blog aren’t particularly insightful, either. They’re just little ideas that I mull over, that I take and expand because I need to write in order to improve. And I’d like to think that I am improving. I wince when I read things I’ve written in the past because I know that they’re just shoddy approximations of what I was really trying to say. Still, even if I wince, I’m proud because the fact that I can recognize my own mistakes means that I’ve improved in the meantime.
Even now, my writing feels childish. I’m still growing into my voice and the writing I output doesn’t always match what I envision at the start. But each time I write, I’m building my rhetorical tool set. I rewrite the same sentences over and over, trying to figure out what it is that’s “off” about them. I force myself to be as clear as possible, both with my message and the way I deliver it. I ignore the nagging voice that tells me I’m not writing about anything special. (If you were about to disagree, I would like to point out that my two most well-received posts so far have been about “being super burned out at school” and “feeling like everyone is way smarter than me.”) It’s true — most of the time, this blog is a rambling, self-centered rumination over my weaknesses. But I’m not concerned about that. I’m concerned about finding anything, anything at all to write about, and turning it into something other people can understand.
A lot of people have the idea that, in order to write, you need big, insightful ideas that nobody has ever had. I don’t think every single thing I write has to have that quality of groundbreaking insight — it’s more important to me, right now, that I learn to write with the clarity of thought and expression that I know I could achieve.