There are some days that I look at the clock on the bottom right-hand corner of my computer screen, realize it says one AM on a school night, and look at what I’m writing and hate myself for it. I’m rambling again, about why I feel one way or another, some kind of self-indulgent over-analysis. The kind of thing that other people don’t want to read.
Most night that I spend writing go like this. Realizing that I’m writing the wrong kind of thing, even though it’s the only kind of thing that my fingers will spill. Even if it’s the truth, or as close to the truth as I can get, the sorts of half-truths that come out as you’re trying to cross your denial and come to terms with the truth. The times where you can see it, distant, on the horizon, even if you’re not there yet.
But I’m beginning to realize that I need to stop stopping myself. The only way to get better at writing is to read, and then to write. You will write like what you read–garbage in, garbage out, as my grandfather used to say, stolen out of the mouths of greater men. And you must write prolifically.
What I’ve been reading has been the sort of thing I stomp on when I do it myself: this so-called self-indulgent over-analysis. Maybe not quite so personal, but Emerson and Zora Neale Hurston and Virginia Woolf and a whole host of other authors that I’ve read for pleasure and for school have seen far more of the world than I have, being trapped in mostly-white suburbia for the time being. The only thing I know well is myself, and the tiny world that I’ve found myself in, and so comes the second rule of writing: write what you know.
Now, that one had been fought with, and mercilessly. A lot of people would probably agree that it’s been put down completely. But there’s something to be said for knowing something about whatever you’re writing. Maybe not the “right” knowledge, or the way we understand things today, but knowledge nonetheless. We can say, after all, that an ant’s understanding of the world may not be right in the grand sense of things, but it is right in its own eyes. And so with a medieval peasant, of which a number of great books have been written, even though we cannot travel in time, and so with animals, who cannot speak, and so with the people of the future. Knowledge does not have to be complete, or correct, or any number of other things.
It is impossible to write the life of a coal miner, however, if you do not know something about him–perhaps not what he does in his line of work, or what color hat he wears, but what he feels after a day in the mines, and if the dark dust under his fingernails is ever washed away. Does the toil make him bored and restless, or is he holding on to what he knows for dear life?
All I know is that I’m still holding on to my YA-inspired ideals of what a great story is, even though now I’m reading different things. I’m telling myself that nobody wants to hear what I’m saying because I am not interesting or unique, as much as I’d like to imagine otherwise. Maybe the idea isn’t to write something wholly new. Maybe the idea is to write something that makes others step back and say, “That’s what I’m feeling. Thank god I’m not the only one. Somebody finally put it into words.”
Now I’m giving myself permission to write open letters, as much as it’s a dead and buried fad, to people I know I’ll never have the courage or opportunity to talk to. Permission to say what I feel, and to feel it unapologetically, or at least as much as I can muster up before I subconsciously press them back down to whatever hellish depths they came out of. Permission to be fake deep when it’s the only way I know how to say things, and to say things the way I believe they should be said, damn the current preferences. Permission to listen to sad music and cry a little bit and then say things that aren’t happy and aren’t really healthy, but are proof that maybe I’m getting healthier. Permission to not be unique, but maybe, just maybe, honest.