On writing


I am a writer and I will be the first to say that writing is (literally) pretentious.

To make it worse, there are a lot of writers who are snobs, or make writing into a snobby activity.

Today I overheard someone say that their friend interns for a literary magazine, and they save the worst submissions and laugh about them with their friends.

When I encounter writing I don’t like, or that I find (sidenote: Whatever that means; it’s all subjective. ) I share my critical suggestions with the author or among the peer group as kindly and as specifically as I can. If I find it funny-bad, sure, I smirk and I crack a smile to myself, but I keep criticisms that aren’t fairly-phrased to myself.

Most of the time, when I read a piece of writing that I truly think is bad, I feel sad. Because often times – not all the time, but often – the author did put real effort and emotion into it, and they failed because their expertise is limited. They failed, but they did (sidenote: It’s like watching a baby toddle on their feet and fall over on their face and start crying. We can laugh because we know how to walk, and we know there’s no real harm done, but the baby doesn’t find it funny. The baby is upset with himself, and humiliated, and hurt, and so I don’t feel like laughing.

Similar to the funny way a toddler hobbles around, newbish idiosyncracies can honestly be adorable sometimes. The kinks can be smoothed out over time. )

Even when the author isn’t in the room, it never sits right with me to shit on their writing, because they trusted me with their words.

Expressing ideas in words is not easy, or natural. I guess I sound like a killjoy, but I just don’t find joy in making fun of people. The world is hostile enough.

Another thing. I had a conversation recently, and someone said, “If this poem does well in the peer review, I’ll submit it to a literary journal.”

I asked, “What do you mean by ‘does well’?”

“If people like it.”

I didn’t argue with them, of course. I just found it eye-opening, because I feel like being “liked” is one of my lowest concerns when writing.

It doesn’t really matter if people like my writing or not. It’s nice when they do, but this is my space. I’m trying to express what it’s like to live life through my eyes.

It’s not wrong to write to be liked, though I think that what most writers really want – what I want – is for our writing to be understood. We want our intentions to be reasonably clear; we don’t want to be completely misinterpreted. Being understood is a validating feeling.

After a certain point, it’s impossible to control how people will respond to our writing. If we really want to demonstrate a certain meaning, we just have to keep revising based on our readers’ input.

That’s certainly more doable than writing to be “liked.” Because if we’re writing to be liked, who are we trying to be liked by? A person who’s engaging with the words they encounter (even clumsy ones), or just some vapid, tactless asshole?

And what does that have to do with the craft that goes into our writing?

Nevertheless, to writers who write to be liked, and also to writers who don’t give a shit if they’re liked or not, and to anyone at all, really: I’m a kind little stranger that likes you. As long as you’re using the powers you have for good, I like you.

tl;dr, via e.e. cummings:

may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old