When I first Googled ‘how to make a website’ in 2011, I thought the most difficult part would be the languages and syntax that looked so unfamiliar. When someone talked about ‘coding’, my mind shot straight to the Matrix, envisioning quick streams of 1s and 0s that meant nothing in my mind. I had heard the word binary before, something about 1s and 0s, but I didn’t really get it. The most surprising thing I’ve learned over these last five years is how much of the work done by software engineers is simply problem solving. Understanding language and syntax is a hefty barrier, but certainly not the solutions themselves.
In nearly the same way, I thought a solid grasp of the English language and a recent propensity for reading would help me write. Not the case. It’s clear, now, how similar writing is to many of the other problems I have undertaken. Like athletes who are lauded as champions or actors who receive amazing awards, society views writers within the realm of their seminal works. Beautiful sentence structure and word choice can seem like gifts from the gods. But like the athlete with an appetite for preparation that borders on insanity, or the actor who hones his craft for hours, my experience in writing has been far more difficult and time consuming than I had imagined. In both writing and programming, there’s a method that needs to be followed, and similarly there’s a good chance that even after the work is done it might not work out well.
I imagine writing essays and books was easier in previous times. Before the telephone, postal mail was the best and only form of long distance communication. On top of that, long distance was anything beyond a day’s journey. Living in those conditions pushed people to write consistently, getting a feel for their ‘writer’s voice’. These days, we’re driven to write far more infrequently, mostly within emails and chat apps. Most of my personal communication before 2016 were these means and very infrequently did my expressions extend beyond immediate plans or a recap of things done.
But writing, and particularly sharing that writing, has changed my view. Sometimes I get into a good flow and sentences rattle off quickly, but most of the time it’s broken paragraphs and unfinished ideas. Regardless of my ease with the first draft, it’s always painful to read through it all again, removing words and sentences wherever possible. I push to make sure every word matters, that there isn’t anything that’s written and doesn’t help the reader. Obviously, I try to write well whenever I sit down at the keyboard or with a pen in hand, but the more scrapped essays I write, the more comfortable I become with my writers voice. The key doesn’t seem to be thinking of the perfect essay topic or writing a piece that needs no revisions, but rather being prepared when the right topic hits. The flow, whether in football, singing, writing, or cooking, is a feeling we all experience. Refining skills, limiting mistakes, and sharpening the scalpel don’t happen during the Super Bowl or while writing the next great novel. They happen in angry film sessions and busted essays, disguised as everything we’re looking to avoid. At times it’s frustrating. But if it was easy, everyone would do it.