By Michelle Drozdick
For someone who identifies as a writer, or at least an aspiring one, I spend a lot of time putting off writing. It wasn’t always this way; as a child and teenager I wrote almost constantly. At the bus stop, in between classes, during classes, when I got home… If I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about the next chance I would be able to write. I kept track– from the ages of thirteen to nineteen I wrote approximately seven hundred thousand words. That’s the equivalent of seven novels, more or less. It was a bit excessive.
Over time, that slowly began to change. Instead of writing continuously for an entire day, I’d spend hours struggling on one paragraph. Nothing flowed; I’d write and rewrite the same sentence over and over again until finally getting frustrated and deleting the entire thing. All I could think about was how it would be perceived, and how it would be criticized. What had once been a very private, personal activity now had a new, faceless participant– the audience.
Sometimes I went months without writing. When I did, it was a struggle, and I very rarely enjoyed myself. What had was supposed to be a passion became a slog, and I was increasingly frustrated with my output and what I felt to be a lack of progress.
Eventually I came across a large chunk of forgotten stories and poetry I wrote as a teenager. As I reread them, one thing remained consistent– they were all terrible, from the purple prose to the painfully blatant metaphors to the complete and utter lack of logic. But, despite the lack of quality, there was something in them that my more recent work didn’t have. Unlike the bland, soulless pieces that were clearly written by someone miserable, these pieces had passion. Despite the typos and the stilted prose I could see what writing had once been for me. For just a moment, I was seventeen again, spending my entire summer hunched over a computer or a notebook and pouring my heart out. It was just me– no audience, no expectations, no self-doubt. And even though what I came up with wasn’t anything special, it was mine.
When I sit down to write now I try not to think about who will read it, or if anyone will read it at all. I’m trying to return to that place where I once allowed myself to write what I wanted to write, and worried about fixing it later. I’m trying to reach that point that used to be so simple to find; I’m trying to throw caution to the winds so I can dive headfirst into a story, self-doubt be damned.
It doesn’t always work.
Sometimes I find myself agonizing over a single sentence for hours. Sometimes I find weeks go by without any significant progress. I can’t write, can’t look at my work and see anything other than amateurish slop..
But sometimes, just sometimes, the words come naturally, and the beginning of that familiar feeling slowly rises to the surface. Maybe what I write is crap, but it’s my crap, and I enjoy writing it. When those days come, I find myself writing at the bus stop, on the subway, on my lunch break, on my way home. When those days come, I remember that writing is something I love, not something I’m obligated to do. Quality or not, on those days I feel like a writer again.