How To Begin Writing, Even When You Don’t Know Where To Start
After 9 months, and a couple of blog posts, I’ve noticed a few things.
The first is that I’m a terrible writer. I’ve only known and written in an academic way because that’s how I was taught in schools. It was useful then and is still useful now, but it serves only a few audiences.
The second thing is that nobody how terribly I write, I’m always excused by my readers if I have something worth sharing. Nobody cares that my writing is not the most conversational, or even professional at all. I’m still developing my voice, and the worst part of this development is that I’m stuck in the middle of nowhere. Yet people still find a way to power through those words I’ve penned if I’m interesting enough.
It’s probably because I’ve only tried my hand at non-fiction so far. It would be a different story if I attempted to write fantasies like George RR Martin, Tolkien and J.K. Rowling. But what I’m saying is that you can begin writing even if you don’t possess the technical skill and unique voice that all good writers possess.
There are two ways — both of which work.
Have Something To Say
The first is to have something to say. It seems obvious that this would be the natural starting point, but most of us usually skip over this.
We have plenty of opinions — and we make sure to let others know about them — but these are usually topics that we latch onto in the course of a conversation. Beyond that, there’s nothing that we really must say. There’s nothing begging to be released inside us, nothing that we must really communicate to the world.
It’s as Schopenhauer once observed: there are those who write who have something to say and those who write for the sake of writing.
This is the distinction between the authors of classics and you and me. It is clear that they had something to say; an idea that they just had to communicate. Tolstoy wanted to highlight moral complexities and ambiguities in Russian society; Machiavelli believed that men should be governed a certain way; Orwell was deeply critical of totalitarian regimes. It’s writing from the soul.
These were all convictions that took years to develop. And the depth of those convictions was abundantly clear in the clarity of the ideas expressed. So how do we get there?
Bestselling author Ryan Holiday has some advice for us. It’s nothing like what we’re told — to just accumulate hours of practice. Rather, he says the best way to develop a compelling message is to go do interesting things. It shows in the writing of those who have done so.
Tolstoy would not have developed his views without travelling and serving in the military. Machiavelli wrote from his experiencing governing men. Orwell was exposed to poverty living as a tramp in Paris and London, and formed his views on communism when he fought in the Spanish Civil War. As Holiday says in Perennial Seller, the books written by such men are classics and are timeless.
These were the unique experiences which shaped each man. It made them so good they couldn’t be ignored. It gave them something to say.
Document, Don’t Create
What of those who are still on the journey of exploration? Is there nothing else you can write?
I used to think so. That was until I stumbled onto Gary Vaynerchuk. And what he says is this: document, don’t create.
Anyone can do this. There’s plenty around you that happens. It’s a matter of noticing it and putting in a way that is accessible to others. It circumvents the temptation to put something perfect out there. It helps you keep shipping.
Stoicism is not a new philosophy by any means. It dates back to the times of ancient Rome and Greece, where the philosophers Seneca, Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus lived. But it’s Ryan Holiday who has managed to retrieve these concepts and reinvented them for the modern world, making these ideas accessible.
Documenting is also what authors like Tim Ferris and Lewis Howes have done. Their podcasts and respective books, Tools of Titans and The School of Greatness are compilations of the strategies and concepts used by the elites in every industry. It’s a skill of its own, having to curate and feature the best work.
But the best part is that documenting helps you develop a killer taste of your own. You learn what’s good, and what’s not. You know what works, and what doesn’t. That translates to better writing of your own, as you develop your own voice. After observing others for so long, you eventually have something to say.
Writing Is For Everyone
Writing is not easy. It never was, and never will be.
As Oscar Wilde observed, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. Each time you write, you are leaving a bit of your most innate thoughts for others to judge. That, or realising that nobody is interested in what you have to say.
But it can be done. You can begin writing immediately, even though it will take years — if ever — for you to begin mastering your craft.