Why, when, where, and how to write
Is it because you're supposed to?
I never considered myself a “writer”
When I was a kid, I would write a story once in a while. I wanted to be an F.B.I. agent for a while. Mostly just because my friend Tim wanted to and it sounded fun driving around with him. What year did X-files come out? Anyway, I wasn’t doing a lot of writing. I liked drawing and character design. For example, one time I created a collection of dinosaur astronaut heroes. I didn’t write the story out. I just drew the drawings.
In high school, I wrote the papers I was assigned (sometimes), and I remember feeling like a few essays were successful and fun. Same thing in college. I started writing a screenplay once because my friend Teppei was writing a really interesting one and it sounded really exciting to write something, but then for it to have a whole second life after that. I might write some things in my sketchbook, but I guess what I’m saying is - that for most of my life, I wasn’t a “writer” and I wasn’t writing anything.
The more I think about it, there were some interesting points where I was writing. Just to give this a date, I graduated high school in 2000. In 1999 a user-driven content platform called “LiveJournal” emerged. I had the internet, but there wasn’t much to do on it (that I knew about) yet. I didn’t really click with AOL chatrooms, and I was more interested in skateboarding or hanging around coffee shops and smoking cigarettes than being online. But LiveJournal was interesting. It was just what it sounds like.
Everyone who signed up had their own journal, and it was live/public for everyone to see. Some people used their real names. Some people had a separate persona or wanted to be anonymous. You could “follow” (this was the first time I’d ever seen anything like that) other journals, and you’d have a little dashboard that would show you all the latest journal entries of the people you wanted to keep up with. You could also leave comments and interact.
It seemed like all the people I knew signed up for a live journal, and you could see who was following who. Some people wrote a lot and had a lot of people watching. It was the first time I had thought about popularity in a digital space. My little group of LiveJournal friends all went to my high school, so I knew their ages. I remember this one time when there was this outside guy (probably a little bit older) who was writing about how people shouldn’t be wearing Dickies (pants) if they weren’t authentically old enough to have liked them before they were “cool.” There was a big commotion in the comments - but anyway, we were doing a fair amount of writing and reading. More than we had before.
I actually had two live journals. One with my name and one that was secret to talk about things I didn’t think my friends would understand. Even then, I was starting to get the feeling that I was behind and that my secret journal didn’t have enough writing. This wasn’t a homework assignment. I didn’t have to write anything. And no one I knew would ever see my secret journal. But in a way, I was already feeling bad about it. It was exciting, but it also had a strange new self-imposed type of obligation. I was already “failing” in a way. And I was the one who created this feeling?
I’ll leave it there for today
For practical reasons, a post 7x longer than this just won’t get read. But also, it won’t let your thoughts rest either. Some people will tell you to break up your posts into little chunks so that you can get more social engagement opportunities and have more things to post. But isn’t it nice that pages in a book break it up into smaller pieces? You probably wouldn’t want to read a book on a gigantic piece of paper (unless it was an art experiment).
Also, on a practical note (for any of my students reading this), I used headings to break it up, and I tried to keep that paragraphs manageable so that your brain doesn’t get scared of the time commitment for anyone block of text.
What do you think? Consider the Why and When. Do you feel these self-imposed feelings of obligation?
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Way to go!
The headings really make a difference! And you totally inspired me to wack the dust off my substack and crank out a post. Good post Derek, writing should be organic, not a self-imposed prison sentence