“I can’t write.”
You’ve said it a zillion times, but you’re not going to say it again because it’s a giant, steamy, and stinky pile of crap.
I know what your problem is.
You learned how to write. Then you learned you were doing it wrong.
Blame it on your teachers. Or the man. Or the system. Or the business world. Let’s agree to point the finger at some anonymous entity so you’ll need not feel guilty about it or suffer any consequences.
The truth is you got off to a great start. In your early grade school years, you were merely expected to use legible penmanship and transfer your thoughts—any thoughts—to the paper.
You wrote with abandon. It was fun. It was freeing. But not for long.
Your spirit got splintered and your passion shattered as you progressed through the grades. Out came the red pens. Your papers came back to you with corrections and suggestions for cleaning up your prose.
Like science and math, you learned writing has rules. Lots of rules. Rules for where, when, and how to apply the rules. The more rules you learned, the less writing became an exercise in self-expression.
The red pens started starring in your nightmares like creepy characters from “Alice in Wonderland.” Writing was no longer a sandbox filled with fun toys. It became more like quicksand filled with expectations, pressure, and fear.
Again, it’s really no one’s fault. Everyone who contributed to your writing paranoia was simply doing their job.
You were taught sentence structure. Grammar. You learned how to write reports, then essays, poems, and stories. In high school you learned how to write for college. In college you learned how to write for business.
Each progressive step involved mastering more meaningful forms of writing. And now, given you understand exactly how to write a resume, sales letter, proposal, website, press release, white paper, and so on, you are a confident professional writer.
Though it surely sucks, you learned how to conform to the norm.
You’re a language lemming.
Your involuntary responses to writing by the rules extinguish your impulses in an instant. Your willingness to follow a formula produces the same outcome every time: dreadful mediocrity.
Your pen’s perfectly powerless. You’re a cripple at the keyboard. The wild, wonderful, ambitious and creative ideas that spring from your mind never get anywhere near your fingertips.
You have so much to unlearn.
So true, Barry! I was just lamenting the other day that SEO/SEM considerations are forcing me to remove much of the creative stuff. The rules can certainly be stifling.
So my question now is: “How?” How do I begin again? I was that kid in AP English, with papers bloodied by red pens, after I thought I was hot stuff. Technical writing classes in college? Yeah…that stuff has been marginally useful in the “real world”. However, I wasn’t an Ad major. I didn’t study copywriting because I didn’t know there was a name for the skill of crafting words designed to move people.
But I guess that doesn’t have to stop me. I think I answered my own question here! If you want to get better at something, you’ll just have to realize that you will have to work at it, without holding on to pre-concieved notions about your own “rockstar-ness”. Thanks Barry!
I agree with you on the excess of red ink and stern rules. But In many schools, the pendulum has swung back so far toward creativity and free-form “personal” essays that rules have largely been abandoned. By the time I see these students in my college class on writing for convergent media, their writing often borders on the incoherent. How can we teach commas and creativity at the same time?
I don’t have the short answer, but it’s a great question. I guess any art form needs expression first, but still needs to be consumable to be commercially accepted.
Thanks for the reply, Barry. I love all your insights.
Hi Barry! I am visiting from Wanda’s blog.
I don’t know how many times I have lamented that I just can’t write. I keep doing it, but wonder if I’ll ever be any good. Yes, I have much to unlearn! I am a nurse, so most of my college writing was scientific, or case based. Not exactly thrilling stuff.
But if I believe that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, then the unlearning has merit. Even if it takes a while!
Nice to meet you,
Wow. One of my favorite comments ever. Now go barf all over a page Ceil. It might look good. Or at least it’ll feel good.
I’m sure I CAN write, but my mind has decided otherwise. A blank page, either online or offline, just fills me with dread.. plus I’m rubbish at punctuation.
I think that’s exactly why a lot of people are afraid to write . . . because they’re afraid they’re doing everything wrong. But, that’s what editors are for—we make your not-so-good stuff look great. Writers should just worry about the writing.