this is shitty writing

*I think about writing everyday. Yet at this very moment my greatest paralysis is thinking about writing, like how reading about productivity is my greatest impediment to productivity. The belief that underlies these distracting activities is that I don’t know how to write or how to be productive, that other people who have mastered the arts I lack somehow have the definitive answers to my problems.

*Increasingly I realize that the pieces of writing I most enjoy and admire (this tends to be memoirs, long-form journalism, opinionated and insightful blog entries) require both breadth and depth of either knowledge or experience. The problem with being twenty-two is that I lack both breadth and depth of both knowledge and experience. When I read other people’s writing, I am simultaneously fascinated and humbled. Desirous of the perfect expression and articulation, I make excuses to myself about not having anything to write about or not having anything of value to write about. Yet the end result of those excuses is nothing. I don’t even have shitty writing to show for it. So the cycle continues, of hungering for more of my own action, resenting myself for lack of action, and seeking relief in the words of others. In times of sadness, pain, and confusion, it’s as, if not more satisfying to find empathy (or miraculous synchronicity) in the words of others.

*I could have written this article myself. Ben Dolnick, we must be soulmates. Reading Paris Review interviews has always been my way of burrowing into a writer’s head while trying to adopt writerly habits, quirks, and skills that I hope will work miracles in my writing life. Again, another distraction from action. After reading an interview with Louise Erdrich, I was convinced that I had to physically tie myself down to a chair with scarves in order to quell my restlessness. I’ve considered taking up smoking many times not to construct a writerly image but to build up a rhythm in which writing sessions would be punctuated by smoking breaks. If this sounds illogical, it’s because it is. And smoking wouldn’t be a functional habit anyway, because I don’t want to smell like cigarettes nor do I want lung cancer. But I do want to write. That last statement has taken me far too long to admit.

*At work I am surrounded by very few writers, and by writers I mean people who hunger to write, not just people who can write competently. I am blessed to share an office with a man who is both an editor and a writer, whose understanding of style and grammar hails from the school of Strunk and White, and who urges me to read George Saunders when my outlook on life is particularly bleak (though he says Saunders will not necessarily make my outlook better). To have someone who can commiserate with the gnaw of self-expression or self-articulation or world-articulation helps me to believe I’m not totally insane for wanting to write but not writing, for only talking about writing and reading about writing but not actually writing. Now I’m writing about not writing but wanting to write, and I’m hoping that in doing so, I’m getting all of these shitty feelings out of me and all of this shitty writing out of me like a friend told me I would need to do before I can produce anything I am proud of. So here’s to days and days of shitty writing, the writing that must be done now and everyday until someday in the future. Bear with me in the meantime.


  1. Hello, lovely. Thank you for your email and for directing me to this piece, I hope muscling through the muck and just setting it free was as cathartic for you as it so often is for me. Shitty writing (which, by the way, this is certainly not) is just as important as the good stuff. It's all practice. The more we can sit down and express ourselves without the expectation that it will hit all the right notes or make any sense to anyone but ourselves, the better our work will become.

    On that note, too. Don't let self-consciousness or humility about your age stop you from really letting yourself "go there" and share your wisdom with the world. I started Happyolks when I was barely 20. It wasn't until my most recent post (the one you emailed about) that many of my readers found out my actual age. You have had more life experience than you think, don't be afraid to own it and share it with the world. Love, loss, regret, suffering, joy, defeat... the list goes on... they are universal, ageless human experiences.

    I'm sure you've seen this before, but I watch it, literally, on a daily basis to keep me treading water in all of my creative pursuits. http://vimeo.com/24715531

    More in your inbox.

  2. I've been sitting here reading through your blog archives, marveling at your ability to say things just so, and coming across this post in particular has been comforting. I tend to read good writing (your writing!) and think, man, it's hard to do this, and man, I should quit trying, but then when I read you sometimes feel these things, it makes me feel a little less afraid.