A fool-proof writing strategy

When I sit down to write (a blog post, a birthday card, an APA-style paper for school), I have an almost overpowering urge to start it all off with a little disclaimer. I must think that doing so will intercept any potential critiques from the person reading what I’ve written. It’s sort of a personal challenge, like, Dear Reader: Just try to find a flaw in this that I haven’t. For example, the disclaimer at the beginning of this blog post (which, for reference, is going to be a very fun one about the insecure thoughts I have while I’m writing things) might read something like, Is it totally self-absorbed to think that you’re interested in hearing about my writing process? I’m pretty sure that people aren’t interested in hearing about how other people write until a person has written something that’s objectively good and has had some level of success, probably evidenced by a lot of followers on Instagram. I don’t have either of those, so I can’t vouch for this information being very useful. But I’m writing it, because I’ve been wanting to for a long time, and I’ve heard at least two people advise to “Write what you know.”

Generally, me writing something goes like this: I am excited about an idea from the time it’s conceived in my brain until about 45 seconds after I start trying to find the words for it. At 45 seconds, I become suspicious that what I’m writing is, in fact, inconsequential and doesn’t deserve the space I’m giving it on Microsoft Word. I consider the bajillions of books that I’ve seen collecting dust in used book stores, laying half-read on coffee tables, and signaling professors’ importance and knowledge from shelves above their desks. I estimate the size of the archive of unread blog posts and newsletters in my email inbox. All evidence points to the conclusion that there are for sure enough words written already. Statistically, what I want to say has already been said, by at least twenty-seven other people. I wish I’d been born a little earlier, when I’d have had a better chance at saying something new. A couple of sentences later, I’m convinced that the topic is far too deep for me to take on and I’m making a fool of myself, at best. I definitely don’t know enough to do it justice. I’m too young and have had far too easy of a life to have insight. By trying to write about it at all, I’m coming off as pretentious, a know-it-all, holier-than-you, pointing a finger, and all the worst things.

Most of the time, I realize that I don’t fully believe all of that for long enough to muscle my way through a few paragraphs. I convince myself not to start the post with a disclaimer. I tell myself that if what I’m writing matters to just a couple of people, that’s worth it.

When I reread the few paragraphs that I fought so hard for, I often realize that they now don’t seem to make sense. I was the one who had the ideas I wrote about in the first place, and suddenly I can’t follow Allie From Twenty Minutes Ago’s train of thought. Also, I have used the word “really” way too many times. My descriptive language is trash compared to David Foster Wallace’s (a writer to whose work I have no business comparing mine, but to whose work I usually compare mine anyway). And two paragraphs in a row say exactly the same thing, reminding me of a professor whose class I used to dread. And also, is this post actually just a summary of the book I just read? Is it all just a plagiarized mess?

I try to fix most of the mistakes. For the second time, I convince myself not to start with a disclaimer about all the mistakes I’ve found in my writing. I worry that too may of my sentences start with “I”. At this point, I’m usually starting to get anxious to get the thing out of my possession.

Eventually, I hit “Submit”, print it off, tri-fold it and stick it in an envelope, publish the blog post, or whatever, and the words are off. They’re “out there”. Sometimes I come back later to reread what I’ve written and realize that it was much better than what I’d feared (although my descriptive language might always be trash compared to David Foster Wallace’s, and that’s okay). Sometimes I reread things and cringe. More often than not, I experience both of those reactions, to the same thing, depending on the day.

The part of writing that I consistently have a hard time with is the end. Birthday cards are easy, because there’s a finite amount of space. Nobody’s asking why you didn’t keep writing, because the answer is obvious: I’ve said all I physically can, due to the constraints of this card. Academic papers for class aren’t too bad, either; sometimes there’s even a section in the rubric called “Conclusion” that tells you exactly how to wrap it up. Monologues about what goes through your head when you sit down to write, though? Totally different beast. If I took a motivational approach, I could end with, “I think it’s okay for things not to be easy or for them not to turn out how you wished. Do the thing!” Which I think is a pretty good take away from this monologue. Or I could be empathetic and point out that if your mind kind of turns against you when you start to do something you care about, you’re not completely alone. At the very least, there’s me. Better yet, I think it’s likely that there are people other than just the two of us who feel that way. If I was being realistic, ironic, and / or self-aware, I could just tell you that I didn’t have a well-thought-out purpose when I started at the top of the page, and I didn’t find one along the way. This is just what I wanted to write most today, and I like to write (despite what you may have been led to believe by the above paragraphs). Maybe it makes the most sense to write until I’m done saying what I want to, and then stop.

3 thoughts on “A fool-proof writing strategy

  1. The struggle is real! There is always a point, when I’m writing, at which I am very tempted to delete, delete, delete–sometimes at 45 seconds, but also 45 minutes, 45 hours (a couple of days) later, or even 45 days (just let it stew in it’s own juice, I think, and come back and see if it is worthy). How can the thoughts that were so coherent in my brain while I was in the shower sound like such pablum when I sit down to write? You have captured so many of my writing misgivings. Keep it up (the writing–let the misgivings go)!


  2. Allie, I have to say this is really funny because I’ve always seen you as a good, confident writer with your blogging and such. You’ve kind of always been a writer (Miss Movie Maker 🙂 and so while I have almost all the same thoughts about MY writing, I never thought you would have them about yours 🙂 Oh the lies we tell ourselves!

    I agree with the “too many reallys” and “are there too many sentences starting with ‘I’?” However, birthday cards are hard for me. I never know what to write.


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