Someone once told me that you can’t write anything of value until you reach the age of 30. This is because, she said, being in your 20s is idyllic, and most 20-somethings are too concerned with finding themselves to write anything that is not self absorbed.
I have yet to decide if this is true or not. I am in my 20s, and I’m not sure that I could yet write that book, or that mind blowing magazine piece, that I often dream of writing. Maybe I could. But what I do know well as a young 20-something writer is that learning how to be a writer is difficult, more difficult than most people know.
I am getting a masters degree in what is, essentially, writing, so I am often the source of people’s gripes and complaints about writers and journalism. Most people, it seems, naively believe that everyone can write, that becoming a writer is a cop out. They don’t understand why writers or journalists get paid, because “everyone” can produce journalism these days. Everyone can write about the news online. And in some ways, they may be right.
Where they are wrong, however, is in the fact that writing is easy, because it’s not. I am learning slowly that writing, putting words together that sound right on the page, does not simply happen.
Every once in a while, as many writers will tell you, the words do simply pour out of your fingers and onto the screen, and you don’t realize what you’ve written until you look back at it and read what you’ve written out loud. Sometimes it’s brilliant. And when I write like that and go back and read it the next day, I’m impressed that I wrote it. I feel like I’ve had an out of body experience, like my subconscious took over and the words hit the page with such force that they couldn’t have come from my distracted brain.
That surprise brilliance, that pride in what simply fell out of my head and onto the page, is what I wish for as a writer, but it rarely happens. More often than not, I write in my head. I have a conversation with myself about some topic of importance, and I’ll lay the words out with such ease that I tell myself I need to write it down. But the mysterious part is that I rarely do. Suddenly it becomes too late to write because I am afraid that once I try to write them down, those words and ideas will never sounds as good. It’s euphoria in my head, and it is what writers so dearly know as writer’s block. It is the fear of your ideas not sounding quite as good as you imagined that they would sound when they hit the page.
In my high school English classroom, my teacher wrote a famous quote in red ink on the wall: “Cut these words and they will bleed.”
Now, slowly, I am beginning to understand that. There is so much at stake behind the words that I write, behind the sentences that I so carefully craft and edit over and over again. I’m not sure that anyone besides a writer can understand this. The words that I write end up being little pieces of my mind, of my thoughts. Sharing the best writing that I’ve done is the most terrifying, because when someone critiques that writing, which they most certainly will, it cuts, deep. It bleeds.
This is why writing is so much more difficult than most people realize, why everything I produce for my classes and freelance organizations is so exhausting. It is because when you write, you put yourself on paper, pared down thin enough that you can be seen, but only barely, though those heavy words. I’m not sure if this is being a 20-something writer, or just a writer in general. I’ll let you know when I’m 30, when I find out if I could write something, someday, that the world would care about reading.