I’ve been doing this writing thing for about 8 years now, but I’ve been ~seriously~ doing it for the last four or five. In that time, I’ve easily hit over 20,000 words, a few small essays, and made my fair share of mistakes to make me cringe and shudder when looking over old pieces. In that time, though, the biggest mistake I’ve made hasn’t been forgetting to fact check or not using the Oxford comma: hell, my biggest mistake wasn’t even double spacing after starting a new sentence. (Who does this? Where did I learn it? More importantly, who made me continue this and didn’t beat it out of me?)
My biggest mistake, by far, has been not writing enough.
There was a period in my grade 12 year of high school where I wrote for 20 uninterrupted minutes everyday. I’m not sure how long I was able to keep this up for: if I recall correctly, it lasted for ~about~ a month and a half. The anatomy of the 20 minutes looked something like this:
00:00-02:00 – Begin writing. Erase whatever sentences or prompts I’d began with. Do this repeatedly for about five or six times.
02:00-05:00 – Contemplate shutting down the 20MAD (20 Minutes a Day) project I’d given myself. Aimlessly write sentences now, some of which don’t really relate to each other. Begin scanning around my room for inspiration.
05:00-07:00 – Open up iTunes and cobble together a really quick playlist. It’s a smart playlist, of course. It should last 20 minutes, be a healthy mix of all my most played/top rated tracks, and there must be one song from the Man of Steel OST in it. It’s just the way it goes.
07:00-18:00 – Suddenly, inspiration has hit. Somehow or another, I am in beast mode. I am Kerouac. I am Mark Twain. I am Langston Hughes resurrected in glorious splendor, and my writing is fantastic, articulate, and expressive. I make no mistakes. I am the Literary God, Creator of Mythical Worlds and Settings, and anyone in my presence would swoon at the intense expression on my face, no doubt due to my horrendous posture and sudden need to go to the washroom.
18:00-19:00 – Shoot. Oh no. I have a minute left. I’m running out of time. I have to wrap this up. How do I wrap this up? Beginning, middle, ending, climax, I haven’t even got there yet! What do I do? This is insane! I need an hour and a half, at minimum! I can’t just stop what I’m doing. Which asinine individual came up with this writing thing, anyway? God.
19:00-20:00 – Well, that’s it. Time to save. What do I save this as? Will I come back to it? Can I edit? Okay, quick edits. Seriously? I misspelled “incredulous”? The hell? Alright. That’s enough editing. Let’s publish this. Wait up. What do I tag it as? Do I want people to read this stuff? Is the “prose” tag even used by people here? I’ll go with the “creative writing” one. Yeah. People must check that all the time.
That was my process. I’d do that, every day, usually before bed, for a month or two. I’d post it, tag it, and then wake up to see my post had gotten hundreds of hits and shares.
That’s a lie. It was never that many. Usually, I’d be lucky if I hit 10 likes/reblogs.
But through it all, I learned something about myself. Of course, I wasn’t really seeing it at the time, but it was in hindsight that I realized that forcing myself to write, no matter how shitty or pretentious it was and felt at the beginning, was the best way to improve my writing. Even now, I look back at a few of the shorts and one-offs that I created back in 2013 and smile because to me, it’s some of the best work I’ve ever done. At all.
Somewhere along the way, though, writing began to suck. Chalk it up to a rotten English class or a frustrating experience with writing or just any combination of variables, but I stopped seriously writing for a long time. Long pieces, short pieces, album reviews: I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d used to. Even now, writing this, I’m struggling to keep going because of the biggest emotion that kept me from writing like I used to: what’s the point?
There’s so many people writing to promote themselves and advertise their stuff. You’ll never be good enough. You’ll never win a FIFA Ballon D’Or. You’ll never score with your right foot, or your left foot. Expressing yourself is so dumb – just get that science degree, make everyone happy, live that life. It’s easy. It’s safe. A life of creation is hard to do and unstable and requires way too much of an investment with an unstable and volatile payoff. It’s just not worth it.
These thoughts kept me down for a long time. I had no inspiration (I hate this excuse, but that’s for another day). It’s a shame, really, because the best time to have been writing would have been in those dumps, those downtimes.
You see, no one tells fledgling writers that lacking inspiration is as much a part of the creative process as the days where you’re manic and high and running on a thousand ideas. No one pulled us aside when we were starting up Sunset Rising and told us that there would be days where we’d want to quit, want to give up, want to do the regular type of job that had a “steady” role and “stable” employment. You learn about the rules of grammar and when to break them, you learn what makes a fantastic headline or how to properly shoot video for a news piece, but nobody ever breaks it to you that writing is an up and down process. It’s something that a lot of us writers learn on our own, and once you do, it becomes a whole lot easier to deal with the down days.
What comes next? You’re in the trenches. You’ve got a bit of anxiety. Okay, so you haven’t written a blog post or an article in weeks, and you haven’t shot video or done an edit or touched InDesign in months. What happens now? Where do you go?
It’s simple. You sit at your computer. You pick up the camera. You open your journal, and you begin creating again. You do it for 10 minutes, maybe even 15. But that’s all it takes. And then the next day, you repeat it. And the next. And the next. You go on and on until the process of creating turns from a chore into a welcome part of your day, and in some cases, goes on to rule and run your day. You keep going until you’re back to where you were before, back when you pumped out creations like hot cakes.
I’m not there yet. It’s one thing to sit here and bang out 1400 words to some face on the other end of an Internet connection about how good and liberating it is to get back into the creative process. It’s another thing completely to be able to hit that stage, though, and do it consistently.
But I’m working on it. I’m getting better. Last week had me do four hours of research and four hours of writing, and that manifested itself into two pieces I was really proud of. I’m not sure how that’ll go over time. I want to believe that it’ll continue, and the up trend will continue going up. But I’m no fortune teller. I can’t call the shots on that. All I can do is trust in the creative process, and when it fails me, get into the mud with it and force it to churn something gross and disgusting out. And again. And again. And maybe, one day, instead of giving me 500 words that equate to shit, it gives me 700 words that are kinda dope. Or maybe it’s 200 words that are really well spoken and precise. But maybe, just maybe, I get that magical 10,000 essay that’s well researched and well developed.
Trust the creative process. Embrace it, and don’t be afraid to fail every now and then.