from one beginner to another…stumbling on my way to good writing

Sometimes when I am trying to get my thoughts down onto paper I have no idea where to start because there can be so much going on in my head. I think about random things, and one topic is usually a trigger for another and my thought pattern can just spiral. For me, learning to turn writing into a skill was a challenge. I am confident in my abilities, but to actually discipline myself into producing concise and cohesive focal points was difficult and has taken me a lot of practice. Even now you will be lucky if the ending sentence of one piece has anything to do with the opening line (example: see this post).

However I have learnt that this is usually how writing goes, what gives it character and how it takes form. Like I mentioned in a previous post, it usually opens your mind to ideas and thoughts you didn’t know you had, which in theory is a good thing, but on paper can obstruct you getting your initial point across, and can hinder you from a professional point of view.
Consequently there are a couple of steps I take if I am writing articles or essays that I try to have in place to keep me on track.

Firstly, for articles I always try to forecast what the ending will look like. Although I continue to explore my own thoughts in the body of an essay, I like to think about how I will finish. I like to think specifically about a sentence I may use, or a unique way in which I can sum up my thoughts in relation to the initial idea. Having this in the back of your mind helps you to keep on task, however at the same time allows you some flexibility to remain open minded as you research new information or as other perspectives and opinions surface.
Secondly, I try to read as much of the supporting/opposing material as possible before I begin. It sounds pretty obvious but if you have all of that information behind you beforehand you are more likely to keep your initial stance, or if it does change half way through you are better equipped to deal with it. I have found in the past when evidence goes against the point I am trying to make especially if it is found whilst already writing, it is hard to come back from mentally as your opinion is no longer as strong in your own head, which can reflect in your evaluations. Background reading is key.

Writing poems is different, I’d argue that you need to let your thoughts flow, you don’t need to forecast an ending unless you know exactly what you want the poem to convey. Sometimes it’s a lot more fun just to see where you end up. I know a lot of other writers which have said they can use words solely for the purpose of rhyme. This doesn’t need to be the case. If you find that a poem you initially thought would be better in rhyme doesn’t form that way – it doesn’t matter. This is freestyle. There is a difference between rhyming because you want to say something and saying something because you want to rhyme. Similarly with different poem structures, if you specifically want to produce a haiku or sonnet etc then it may take a few attempts, but if you can’t, or it doesn’t come, don’t try to make it happen. Writing that comes naturally will be equally as natural for someone else to read.

Aside from disciplining myself, I had to learn how to be completely honest. You need to be confident in what you put down on paper. Words don’t need to be perfect, you don’t need to have perfectly formed sentences or paragraphs, more than anything you just need to trust your own judgement. Yes sometimes discipline helps, you need to develop your motivation and you need to practice like any other skill, but as long as what you produce is truthful, passionate and from the heart this will take you further than following instructions or rules.

I have probably talked myself into being a perfect example of going off-topic mid post, but I am learning every day how to nurture a craft through practice. In my worst summary ever, Yes – I have learnt that I need to discipline myself to perfect an end result, especially when writing articles and essays, but perhaps more importantly for me, that I write my best when I am being completely truthful. This is very hard for me to do even now. Sharing work you write in private is tough, but to post openly about your own feelings and experiences takes so much more. It leave you vulnerable, you have to have a lot of courage in what you feel, a sense of humour, zero ego, and give no fucks. If it is something you can sacrifice for the sake of other people reading your work you are already half way there.

Also I believe that what makes any writer better is the amount of time you spend alone. This is slightly unrelated but I feel something you have to be prepared to do. You need to know your own mind without clouding or overshadowing from anybody else. Once you have formed your own opinions, accepted your own strengths and weaknesses, your own feelings, you are free to use them as you please. For me the spending time alone part wasn’t hard, but to recognize my own strengths and weakness and use them as art was my mount Everest, but I suppose it depends on what sort of person you are. If you can/do write when you are alone, you write from where you stand, and it’s a reflection of who you really are, hence making for better (or maybe just more interesting/controversial reading).

4 thoughts on “from one beginner to another…stumbling on my way to good writing

  1. Justin Zinman

    “Writing poems is different, I’d argue that you need to let your thoughts flow, you don’t need to forecast an ending unless you know exactly what you want the poem to convey.” that was a very insightful differentiation between essay writing and poetry. I couldn’t agree more. I am still learning to cultivate the discipline in having direct clarity and purpose in my essay writing. I used to mainly write in a ‘Gonzo Journalism’ style (coined by Journalist Hunter Thompson). It is nice to acknowledge that that style could still be effective in a some styles of writing. Thanks!


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