On The Subject Of Writing
I was a bit of a troublemaker at school. Not the sort who bullied people for their lunch money, or stole other kids’ homework or anything like that. I just had a tendency to talk too much. I’d race through my work as if it was being timed, and then I’d sit and chat to everyone else, distracting them from doing their own work (who was I to know they’d be slower than me).
As a result of my incessant behaviour, I’d get regularly shouted at by whatever irate teacher had to deal with me, and would often be made to do my work again with more care and attention (I dread to think how many pieces of work I’ve done twice over the course of my school career). Either that or I’d be handed the “Punnie book”. A book full of grammar and writing-based punishment exercises, and instructed to “pick one you’ve not done yet!“
I was the only one in my class who managed to finish that book over the course of a year at primary school. You’d be forgiven for thinking that it would have stood me in good stead for 5 years of English tuition at high school.
I sucked at English. I didn’t enjoy reading, I didn’t like writing essays, I didn’t particularly like my English teachers and I was consistently getting D and E grades in class.
So it tends to surprise me somewhat these days when I find myself craving the urge to write.
Since leaving university and the tedium of lengthy essays behind back in 2005 I started to enjoy writing. Initially I tried to write little blogs here and there, but over the course of a few years I dabbled in trying to write a novel, instructional pieces and tutorials, poetry, and various styles of creative writing. Nothing ever really stood out.
After starting at QueryClick, where writing blogs is actively encouraged, I felt like I started to find my voice somewhat. The more I wrote, the more I realised I enjoyed it. So much so, that I now run a music based blog called SittingOvation, a design and personal blog called Not Horrendous as well as contributing to the QueryClick blog when I can.
Writing is a cathartic process to a degree. It helps me organise my thoughts, and it helps me communicate with others without having to try and vocalise my internal monologue. I take pride in what I write, and I don’t claim to have the authoritative position on the subjects I chose, but I do know what I like, and how I feel, and communicating that is enough for me.
The problem with writing now is thus:
I can’t write on demand.
Like many of my creative endeavours, I don’t have the capacity to perform at the drop of a hat. What I find more and more is that I need to feel strongly enough about something, or have a burning desire to write about a particular subject. Only then can I really write anything of value (in my eyes at least).
Anything that is metaphorically pulled out of my rear-end at the last minute tends to feel rather forced, or comes across as weak or unfounded. Often badly researched or thought out too.
I need that desire to write; that craving to put my opinions on paper (virtually) before I can put a decent (obviously this is subjective) bit of writing together.
This also means I can’t write about what you want me to write about. I can only write about what I want to write about. There is no compromise here.
Ultimately I guess this means there’s no real career in writing or journalism for me. I’d never be able to react quickly to deadlines, and I don’t have the ability to write impartially or without my personality coming through.
I always marvel at web copywriters who have the ability to write beautiful neutral copy and yet still retain enough of that intrigue to keep someone reading. That is a real talent in its self.
Still, I would actively encourage others to write. Only when they wanted to, and only about what they felt passionate enough about. That is where the real emotion, insight and opinion come through. That’s when people connect enough with a post to comment, or feel strongly enough about it to share it. People recognise work that has passion and feeling within it, especially if it aligns with their own thoughts or opinion.
It’s one thing to be able to spunk-out a post on “top 10 exciting things to do with your foreskin and a hair-dryer”, but it’s another to really feel strongly about something and be able to put that in to a constructive, readable post that can communicate your feelings effectively.
So go forth and write. In your own time.
About The Author: Alex Cowles
A largely cynical and often sarcastic designer and front-end developer by day. Unknown international DJ & music producer extraordinaire by night (and at weekends). You probably won't like him.