After Everything Has Been Said

I’m no veteran when it comes to this writing thing. My Creative is an amazing pleasure that I can’t always take advantage of, with life and school and all (I mean, even if I tried to write a few good sentences down, I wouldn’t be able to concentrate well with the teacher’s loud, emphatic lectures on the French & Indian War. Plus, people are nosy and will ask the dreaded question, “What are you writing?”, and how am I supposed to answer that?). It is bipolar, sometimes it’ll work with me when I yank on its leash and treat it with some nice words, and other times it’ll refuse to show up to the program and sit on the couch watching YouTube videos. Sometimes writing is a adventure that brings a fleeting sense of euphoria, and other times it’s a chore that takes me the whole day to slog through.

Lately, writing hasn’t been fun for me, despite how much I want to have fun. It hasn’t been a chore either, for a chore is a task that you dread and are daunted by at first but soon thank all the practical forces you accomplished. Writing hasn’t been like that for me at all.

Writing has been an ordeal.

I’m sure you’ve all had the same experience — when the voice trails you around everywhere, whisper-screaming in the back of your conscience, You haven’t written in half a century! I thought this was going to be the week where you write everyday from now on? What the hell’s been going on?

And you tell yourself, trying to reason with the part that’s mad at yourself, Look, I’ve been trying, okay? I’ve just never had the time and —

Bullshit. Your mind retorts. You are only avoiding it. Now today you will write, for if you don’t do it today, you never will ever again. You know that.

Or some variation of that. That’s how it would go for me.

So I’ll go home after school, open my journal, hold my pencil to it
and I’ll crash
and break down
and words will escape me
and never come back.

Perfectionism stabs my Creative in its sleep and takes its place to make sure that I don’t get to write my next essay.

It’s happened far too many times, in which I had a chance to write again and revive my Creative’s strength but it never happened. I need for it to happen. I want to write again, and thousands of words that could’ve built new palaces and cathedrals out of paragraphs were stolen from me.

I needed to write again, so I’d feel like a writer and not an impostor.

So I decided to do an autopsy.

So why wouldn’t the words come?

I’ve been wondering this for days but I’ve never gotten to really delve into what was at the root of my problems. But after finally sacrificing other important plans to sit down and pour out my problems in words, I’ve come to the startling conclusion that it was all because I always thought I was a boring person.

This may sound petty, but I was never one to embrace my ultimate mundanity. I’m not an outside person, nor have I traveled the world or launched a start-up for the blind in Haiti or started my own business or written 20 books or done engineering research at Stanford.

I was just a another mousy student and book addict who went to school and came home to do homework. There was nothing that distinguished me from any other person who chose to be average, I had no spike.

And until recently I was completely fine with that. I wasn’t trying to attract more people who would want to be my friend and give me huge opportunities if I was special. I was an introvert who sucked at the art of conversation.

I would loathe talking just about myself. In my essays I would add some vague recount of what I’ve experienced in the past that wouldn’t really add much to my point but was necessary because otherwise the whole article would be a bore to read… or more of a bore than they already are.

I was fine with being Plain Jane in real life, but I feared being uninteresting and driving people away in the writing realm. However, I had one weapon that I've been relying on ever since — my opinions, which I had an ever-growing list of.

But I needed ideas for those opinions, which was where I fell short. Sure, I always wanted to say something, but that isn’t enough of a reason to write. You write because you must, because you have something to say.

I would desperately search Quora and Reddit and every blog I was subscribed to for something, for an idea to materialize and for my fingers to start twitching with the thirst to write something down.

This is not simple writer’s block; this is a writer’s nightmare — when you have nothing to say, nothing to tell your readers. When you feel that everything that had ever been needed to be said was claimed already, and you’re just left with the useless scraps. When you’re left in the wilderness with a thermos but no water to fill it, marshmallows but no chocolate or graham crackers to make s’mores, and a polyester tent with no stakes or poles or ropes to build it…. A journal and a pencil but nothing to write.

I had fallen into a trench and I’m still trying to dig my way out, for I may have thought I had no valuable message to tell, people were off in other places replicating somebody else’s words so they were no longer original.

You can write the same thing everybody else is; that’s one easy way out. But you’re a writer, not a printer copying somebody else’s words.

The other easy way is just quitting, but only uncommitting scoundrels do that, and I knew I wasn’t one.

I don’t want this to happen to anybody else because it really is a horrible situation to obliviously walk into. As a budding writer, I’d normally feel like I’m just slogging around in filthy, muddy waters, but in this situation the mud becomes tar and I’m screwed.

There are four things that helped me to recover:

1. Welcoming the Joys of Creating Something Out of Nothing

In other words, writing what I knew.

Forget that you’re trying to be a writer and allow those chains to fall. Write what you know — all the lessons and skills in life you’ve acquired through your years of living, what you’ve learned, and, most importantly, what you want to know. I hope we’re all past this myth that you have to be an expert at something in order to write about it.

Research never hurts; just looking at a few articles satisfied my ubiquitous information craving. What you know may not be perfect or complete or even factual, but it’s great inspiration for writing about an epiphany or revelation you’ve had, which people like to read.

A friend once told me that if all her thoughts were published in a book, she’d be an infamous writer.

But you can’t pretend to know what’s in other people’s heads or what they already know about you. What you know may not be common knowledge to others, and the reason why writing is so impactful is because it can teach.

2. Shape Familiar Words to Fit Your Own Unique Narrative

How do you do this, you might ask?

Use your personality and identity to add some flavor and spice to relentlessly recycled words.

As I said before, don’t rewrite what somebody else said… unless you can write it in your own font, color, and slant.

I may see myself as just some student, but that’s too vague to the people who don’t know me. In the back of my mind I know I don’t color inside the lines completely — nobody does — but I guess I just don’t want to come to terms with that, hence the trench I’m still in.

What is it about the oft-recycled messages that you constanly hear and read that apply specifically to you? And, keeping in mind that no article is perfect, what have you learned that they don’t know?

A new message doesn’t spill onto a page on its own. You can labor over creating a new one from scratch, or you can carve one from an old stone that has already been used. But the key is that your sculpture — your art — must come out as inimitable.

Your writing must be a product of yourself as person, not someone else’s ideas. You weren’t made to accommodate someone else’s story, and neither were your unborn words.

I doubt you’ll find many articles on sexism — a popular subject in and of itself — through the eyes of a low-income woman in the male-dominated advertising industry, or our ineffective prison culture through the eyes of a county jail worker who sees the same people who get released come back in for another sentence a few years later, or how dangerous fearless journalism can be as a Mexican investigative reporter who was deported back to his country after seeking refuge in the US, or the myriad facets of issues that haven’t been given a voice yet.

You’ll be scrolling through your feed, I imagine, and see all kinds of generic rants on issues ranging from political ideologies to cultural aspects.

Intersectionality is the golden key. You can write a story that people will passively enjoy and then forget, or you can twist what they thought they knew into a tale of how that story is part of your life, which is what I will try to do from now on. In the societal sphere, life as a white, higher-income, religious journalist working for a top publication in New York City is going to be a lot different than life as a black agnostic journalist in the west where newspapers are suffering and employees get paid half as much — that sort of thing.

My point is that there are millions of writers, some whose voices have been silenced or ignored. You’ll probably never get to know them, but you can give them back their voices.

Think of them all as one of the many characters you’ve outlined — except they’re actual people.

3. Rely on What Makes You Angry

I used to steer clear from this when I first started writing because I didn’t want to look like a relentless complainer, but one of my own favorite articles were inspired from these simple questions:

  • What makes you angry?
  • Why does it make you angry?
  • What are your thoughts on what can be done to change that (solutions)?

This may seem impossibly simple, but there’s nothing people love more (besides inspirational listicles on how to be productive/successful) than writings about change. I mean, isn’t that what we all do as Creatives? Challenge the world in order to bestow change?

Anger goes so deep into our subconscious that it demands to be felt, or else it’ll rise up and cause irreparable damage. Take it out on words, for they are the best source of therapy for almost all of what cripples us. Rant as liberally as you please, for there will always be another person who can relate, I assure you.

And the world has been a horrible place for a lot of people. These people have bottled-up feelings beyond just anger — grief, sadness, betrayal, hopelessness, loss, etc.

This is your chance to validate them, to resonate with immeasurable volumes.

4. When All Else Fails, Acknowledge that You (and the rest of the world) are a Perfect Disaster

This was inspired by Alana Massey’s article I Believe That You Are Fascinating in which she says that your mundanity and lack of a special spike is what makes you interesting, which really resonated with me. Being mundane is totally acceptable and perfectly unique. If everybody was extraordinary, that would just become the new normal.

Banish “…But Who Wants to Read This?” from your thoughts.

Unless it’s legit and utter trash, that’s your Inner Perfectionist speaking. Seriously, you need to tie a noose for that thing the next time it talks.

More often than not, it is the uneventful experiences that form the bridge between you and your audience. They may be entertained and intrigued by the recollections of some guy’s travels all around the Middle East, but they can’t be engaged with a story like that. Common stories from the “normal” person form bonds that none of the outlandish ones “extraordinary” people have to offer.

And even though you may not be a special snowflake, you don’t have everything together in your life yet, despite how much you pretend you do. Something about you must be dismantled beyond reason, whether it be your career, your aspirations, your creativity, your plans, or even your entire life.

Readers — no matter how few you have — want to hear you try (and maybe fail) to explain yourself, even if you have no solution or action plan. It lets them know that they aren’t the Only Ones and don’t need to isolate themselves.

This is my favorite thing about writing communities — especially this one. You are of no obligation to constantly deliver inspirational blog posts that always end with a bam! and a mic drop. You are free to be vulnerable, free to confront your weaknesses and struggles.

I’m often overwhelmed by the avalanche of ideas that flood my feed each time I refresh, and it’s difficult to remind myself of my love and appreciation for society as whole and that I’m cheating the world if I don’t continue to write and grow my base.

Your Creative is a fragile egg that will crack if you handle it too roughly. Don’t shun it when it refuses to come, and don’t ignore it when it surges, for you’ll need it again before it needs you.

The Writing Cooperative is a community of people helping each other write better. Become a member to join our Slack team, get fresh eyes on your writing, and participate in the 52-Week Writing Challenge!