San Francisco, California

Writing and lightness

The other day I mentioned that I might not be taking writing seriously enough and then, in a delightfully bloggish way, Robin Sloan riffed on this idea. He published his own thoughts about writing and lightness and this part stuck out to me:

I don’t mean to pick on a stray paragraph. It’s just that you encounter this so often: the insistence that writing should be difficult, serious, painful. Blood on the page, all that. For many writers, it’s a key part of their mythologies of themselves.

And writing can be, very often is, all those things; so it’s not wrong.

It’s just incomplete, because writing can also be fun, matter-of-fact, rushed, bonkers, commercial, crass—and totally successful. Anything can work. Not everything does! But the gates of the city are wide open and there are a thousand ways in.

That mythology (about writing having to be painful to be good) was attractive for a long time. Years ago I would hurl myself at the page until my back hurt and my fingers ached. I believed that physical pain and emotional torment would somehow translate into great work. And in the early days of writing the newsletter I would do the same: I wanted to sound like Hitchens or Orwell or Trent Reznor. I wanted to sound important and I wanted the writing to be sad.

But the pain of all that never really helped. In fact, it created nothing but writing that I want to forget.

And then I received the best writing advice I could ask for: one day, Jules read the newsletter and I asked her what she thought—I saw her wince. A pause. And then she replied: “This doesn’t sound like you, I don’t recognize you here. I think you should write just like you talk.”

Whenever I sit down in front of a keyboard I think of this now; I know that I can’t copy the tone and style of other people. And as much as I want to treat the writing seriously, and write something ~important~, I probably shouldn’t. I ought to write as if I’m talking; hopeful, bumbling, hands-waving and heart-skipping all the way.

At least, that’s what works for me.