Why Do We Write About Writing?


A pen writing on lined paper. | Photo Credit: Aaron Burden on Unsplash

In the past semester, I have found that I am obsessed with the idea of writing about writing. I have written about the process of writing and every frustration that comes with it. I have written several proposals for essays that I know I want to write – but writing about what I want to write about is just more fun. What does that say about me? Is the brainstorming process for a project really more interesting?  Is something keeping me from actually getting started?

The short answer is no.

I have probably spent 80% of my life sitting in front of Word documents. I want them to be filled with fantastical stories. I want them to be filled with moving prose that would make a reader tap into their own repressed feelings. I want my characters to fight dragons or find the meaning of love – or realize some great profound detail surrounding human life that would make Nietzsche weep.

But obviously, those goals are near impossible.

One evening of my second junior year of college, I wanted to write a surrealist sci-fi short story that dealt with themes of doubt, insecurity, and how they affect a relationship.

The only problem was that I was nowhere near equipped to even know where to begin with this story. I stared at the blank document for about an hour – regularly trying different versions of the same sentence only to delete them and try something else. Eventually, it just became a game of how much time was between each update on the document. I wrote the first words: “Last Update: 1 hour ago.”

To my own amusement, that developed into a story on its own! The fictionalized nameless version of me was also sitting at her laptop in front of a blank document, and I am keeping a log of her thoughts – which are very much my thoughts. The style is sporadic, unorganized, nonsensical, and at times vulgar – but is that not just how minds work during the writing process?

So often, young new writers – and I am mostly speaking for myself – get caught up in wanting to emulate the work of someone great. Even if we do not mean to. Poet Billy Collins argues that every writer finds their own voice by combining the voices of their own influences, and I agree with this – but I feel like it is only when we are articulating the intimacies of our own thoughts as they pertain to our own writing that we are truly sharing our own voice. Not a Frankenstein’s monster-mash of other authors, but truly something that is coming from your own soul. Yes, it requires vulnerability – this way of writing will strip you down to nakedness, but it is something that can never be replicated by anyone else.

They say that writers write what they know, and I may not know the far away fantasy kingdoms filled with fantastical beings that I love and desperately wish I could write – but I do know that the keyboard and blank document are waiting for me to do something with them. I know what I feel when I write. What I think and what I experience. Those experiences do not have to exist just in my head. I know that. So, I write it down.