“I’m not good with words.”
There no could be no statement that is as non-sensical as that. As proof, count how many words you have spoken in your life since you could speak.
Of course, such a task is impossible since we have spoken words in the millions throughout our lives. Did most of those words not come out in the right order?
I mention this because I want to pin down how this message of doubt is nestled away safely in our mental spaces. And it’s not just writing — it’s countless things that we tell ourselves the following:
“I’m not good enough.”
“Someone can do it better”
“I’ll mess it up somehow”
I feel this own hesitation between my own fingertips when I start typing. My eyes dart up to previously written sentences, already in edit-mode. It’s like carrying an extra weight around that you don’t need.
Throughout my time of reading and teaching English, I’ve noticed there are consistencies in our self-doubts. There are fears and reservations.
But here’s the thing — once it clicks — and I mean really clicks — writing is the purest thing to magic. There’s a reason why words are about “spelling” because it is exactly that. It’s a sound-spell to be more precise.
So in this sense, I’m going to discuss the magic-blockers — the things that stop you from spelling.
1 — I’m not really good at writing.
Let’s get one thing clear, even the best writers do not think they are that great. Why is that?
It’s because what separates the best writers from writers is that they are looking upwards. When you look upwards and you see the great writers and what they achieved, you realise you have a long way to go.
It is looking at your faults from a position of “Ok, I’m not even close to T.S Eliot, but what can I learn?”
When we see a blank page and we shrink, or we have an unfinished draft that we hesitate to progress further on, or we doubt ourselves even as we are writing mid-way, what we are doing is picking at our faults without letting in room for growth. In other words, we are looking downwards.
And yes, writing is a craft, there are rules and you can be good at your craft or bad at your craft. But if you stop yourself before you even begin, how will you progress to become better?
2- The importance of sound
One of my favourite concepts in writing is the idea of “cadence” — if you’re not familiar with this then it’s to do with the internal rhythm of your writing.
As you get more and more confident in your phrasing and have a reserve of words that you love, or simply that you’re growing into your style and finding things that inspire you, it tends to roll out over the page in what we used to jokingly refer to as a “word salad” or my personal favourite “unicorn vomit.”
Yes, just because you’ve tossed a few juicy tomatoes into your sentence and drizzled it with punchy adjectives does not a good sentence make.
It is perhaps because as Virginia Woolf elegantly put it,
“We refuse words their liberty. We root them down to their singular meaning. The meaning that makes us pass the examination, the meaning that makes us catch the train.”
I love Woolf because she understood language very rhythmically. Reading her sentences was like listening to this beautiful piece of music where every word just sat into the right place because — and here’s the golden nugget — how your writing sounds is as important as what information is inside it.
It’s that sound-spell I mentioned earlier.
It’s the shrill conversation of a breakup happening over the phone from across the road that turns your head in wild puzzlement.
It’s the voices of your family laughing over the last birthday they celebrated.
It’s the tone that your lover uses with you that lets you know that they really mean what they say.
So having this in mind — read out loud what you write. Imagine you’re going to have to record this as an audiobook.
If you find yourself struggling to say the actual words, or going too quickly, your own body is the best judge when it comes to finding out if your writing works or not.
You just need to listen to it.
3- There are no real writers, only witnesses.
I have struggled with writers block like many others. But as I ease into it more I realise where I’ve been missing the mark.
You see where I truly see the magic in writing is in its momentum. There comes a point when I’m drafting when, I’m not typing too fast or too slow but the output is consistent. I sit and write like that for hours at a time, only to have my phone or my friends slowly pull me out of my self-induced word-coma.
That’s really why I do it. I do it to visit *that* place — a place where you focus and everything happens unconsciously. The voice of self-doubt is at bay and the words flow like water.
To me this is the true nature of writing — the channeling of a separated space.
When we treat writing mechanically as our education system is all too eager to let us do, we remove the animate quality of our craft. Words live and breathe as people do — how else could they inspire life in others?
So this is why I say, when you really get down to it, you are not really a writer. You are a vessel — you can also choose to see this as focus if that’s easier.
Roland Barthes wrote an essay named “The Death of the Author” where I’d like to share this quote:
“the Author is supposed to feed the book — that is, he pre-exists it, thinks, suffers, lives for it; he maintains with his work the same relation of antecedence a father maintains with his child.”
What you write is not yours.
You borrowed it from an abstract world.
Therefore you must maintain it, take care of it — treat it with the respect and dignity of another human being.
Throughout our times we have had stories about people wielding magic with full knowledge of its power. You have the same magic now at your fingertips.
Do you dare to invoke it?