I tend to read before I go to bed, until the clock hits an hour so unreasonable that I won’t dare to put it down in writing, and I dog ear the page I’m on before slamming my head into my pillow. This time I set aside for reading has led me through some thoroughly enjoyable books, including “The Stranger” by Albert Camus and “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson, both of which I now firmly believe are required reading. I’ve recently finished reading “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott, and I’m about 50 pages into “On Writing” by Stephen King. These books, written by writers about writing (and read by me, a writer who is reading about writers who write about writing), share valuable insights on what makes “good” writing, the writing process and about life in general. I was recommended to read these books by a former boss of mine, and I’m happy I took the time to read them. If you’re reading this, thanks Larry.
But, one piece of advice that I read last night has stuck with me more than most do. In “On Writing,” King notes that “I have spent a good many years since—too many, I think—being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction and poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent.” As I lay in bed reading this, I realized something: this author who has sold over 400,000,000 books knows a thing or two about writing.
King is so right, in fact, that I’m realizing his words hold true for me at this exact moment. As I type this article, I realize that I spent about 30 minutes milling through various news websites, with ideas of dubious quality swirling around in my head, trying to find something to write about for this article. And King’s words, funnily enough, hold the reason: I’m scared of being judged for writing something too sentimental, too undefined or too philosophical.
When I wrote “Great expectations,” a piece that I ended up being extremely proud of, I wasn’t sure if I ever wanted any other human being to lay eyes on it. It felt too flowery, too self-indulgent and too pompous for anyone to be interested in or enjoy. I felt similarly when I wrote “Time and the taking of it,” a piece about how the linear passage of time both frightens and confuses me. It included a retelling of a really joyful moment with my dad, but I was so scared to publish it because I wasn’t even sure if he would get it. It’s easy to write articles like “Setting the record straight on cookies,” because there’s no real flak one can get for having opinions on cookies. But publishing an article about why I despise Thin Mints doesn’t leave me with the same (selfish and self-serving) kind of fulfillment that writing a personal piece does.
I think that King’s words carry further than just writing, though. The same is true for life. I was scared to jump into nerdier hobbies like “Magic: The Gathering” because I felt that it wasn’t “cool enough” for me. But, now that I’ve dived headfirst into “Magic: The Gathering,” I’ve found a community of people on Brandeis’ campus that I love spending time with and I’ve developed deeper connections with my high school friends.
In writing and life, doing the things that give me genuine satisfaction (even if I don’t want to do them at first and other paths may be easier and ever-present), has made my life better on so many levels. When I publish articles that feel self-indulgent and obscure, such as my unofficial and meandering series on the terrifying linearity of time (of which this article is somewhat a part), I’m happy. I get to express myself and use more personal language flourishes that I can’t in other types of writing. When I play “Magic: The Gathering,” I feel like a part of a community of intensely nerdy individuals who love making each other laugh. And I’m happy.
When I refuse to be ashamed about what I write, about what I enjoy and about who I am, life is better. I’m going to keep doing those genuine things: the flowery articles and the silly hobbies that bring me joy I didn’t even know existed before I started. I can’t promise that I won’t write more articles lazily insulting different food items, but a certain kind of writing—the kind that involves true self-expression and a bit of vulnerability—will be where I start from now on.