I still remember the first time my writing was published. I was in fifth grade and I wrote a haiku about water lilies. I don’t think I had ever been more proud of myself.
I realize now that anything written by a fifth grader in coherent English will be published, but nevertheless I loved seeing my words on a page. Needless to say, it’s gotten more difficult to get published as I’ve gotten older and my peers’ writing skills have caught up to my 10-year-old self’s slightly advanced ones.
There are many people who write only when they have to, as a means to an end, but I don’t think this is how it should be. Writing, whether with the aim of being published or solely for personal benefit, is something that everyone should do.
The more you write, the more you realize just how slippery language is. It may be a natural skill but translating thoughts, feelings, images and emotions into the most accurate words is tricky. There will always be words that elude you, emotions and feelings you try to explain but can never recreate exactly.
That’s the thing about language: there isn’t a word for everything.
But the more you practice writing, the closer you get to what you’re trying to express, to the intended message. There are dozens of ways to write a sentence and the permutations and combinations that can be made with words are terrifying and exciting at the same time. There is never only one way to something; this article alone could be written hundreds of ways. That is what makes language so fascinating.
It takes time to learn the rules and nuances of writing, and even more time to learn how to manipulate them with skill. I’m not suggesting you use language to manipulate people (that’s just evil), but using the system to your advantage is fair game.
Not only will understanding the system make your writing better, it will also improve your verbal communication skills.
After all, how often do words get misconstrued? A compliment becomes an insult, a question becomes an accusation.
That’s what makes communication so difficult: as soon as we put words out in the open, once they leave our lips or our pens, they become open to interpretation.
Whether many people will read your writing or only you will have that privilege, writing is personal. That’s what’s so scary about writing. It’s impossible to separate yourself from your words, and that entails vulnerability.
When people criticise your writing, in a way, they criticise you. Unlike speech, writing leaves behind a trace of itself, a physical artifact that can be read days or months later — or years, in the unfortunate case of embarrassing teenage love poems. Every word comes from you and represents what you thought and felt at that moment in time.
Hemingway said it best: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
Writing can help you make sense of many things, including yourself. After all, the hardest thing to lie to is a blank page.
So, here’s the challenge. Write something. Anything. A haiku, a short story, a novel, a horrible clichéd love poem that you will be forever embarrassed by. Just write something. What you write will surprise you. Just remember that, as Hemingway said, “the first draft of anything is shit.”
Photo: Raisa Pezderic/The Sheaf