A Newcomer to Writing

The ‘C’ Word

As I’ve said a few times, writing is a new thing for me. Although that is true, it’s also a bit of a lie. Maybe ‘lie’ is a touch strong… ‘inaccurate’ is probably a better reflection of the reality of the situation. I have written a lot in my life, but I am new to writing for fun. I’m also very new to writing fiction. It isn’t something I had tried before I started the blog, but in recent months I have started to dabble in it as more of a pastime. I need to go back to my school days to discuss my history with writing properly.

In school, I always seemed to do well in English, despite putting in little to no effort at all. My immature philosophy throughout school and into my first year of university was that you are either good at something or you aren’t. The idea that you could practice, commit time and get better at something, didn’t register with me. I thought that was just talk to motivate people who were bad at things, in an attempt to make them feel less bad. When I saw professional athletes, I assumed that they had put in very little effort to get to that level of skill. “They’re just good at it,” I thought to myself, whilst acknowledging that it wasn’t the thing I was good at. It doesn’t mean I thought they were lazy and didn’t have to work for it, but that they always knew they were good at it and were always bound to be if they backed it up with some effort. It was easy to put effort into something you were good at; I knew that from playing the guitar, something I considered myself naturally good at.

This ‘master of none’ mentality did very little for me, and likely robbed me of a lot of valuable experience early on in life. Looking back, I wish I’d played football more, for example. The few times I tried and wasn’t very good at it told me that it wasn’t for me and I was bad at it. I hadn’t seen the time and commitment everyone else had put into getting to their proficiency, so I just saw it as a natural talent that I didn’t possess. That stopped me from trying at it, and I never really put any time into it. Nowadays, I wish I played it more because it seems like a good hobby to have, but I’m not overly fussed. Not enough to actually get out and learn it, anyway.

I bumbled through school and sixth form, never realising how lucky I was to be an A*-C student without really trying at all. There was something more in English, though, and I knew I liked writing the essays for some reason. When it came to selecting university courses, it was a no brainer for me. English was where my skill lay, English was what I’d do. My predefined personality, characteristics and attributes assigned my fate to English, so I walked that path with very little critical thought or second-guessing. The same philosophy applied to the idea of going to university – that was just what everyone had to do if they wanted to get a job, I thought. Everything is predetermined; what is the point in fighting it. It’s a very anti-entrepreneurial approach to life, but it’s easy.

I went to university and studied English. My love for writing essays continued, really. Throughout school and university, writing essays was my favourite part. When I did my MSc in Management at Bath University, the story was similar; my favourite part was writing essays. When I had to write a 15,000-word dissertation, I couldn’t wait to get stuck in. I finished it with months to spare and got a mark of 76% in it, which is a really good grade for such a large, convoluted piece of work. Despite these signs that maybe writing was something I should try and indulge in more in my spare time, I didn’t. I never really thought that I was naturally good at English because I enjoyed writing, and that was also what helped me in all of the other subjects where exams were largely essay-style questions.

Eventually, I realised that I had actually spent a lot of time writing essays and that it must be at least partially responsible for my level of proficiency. My time at Bath studying for my master’s also showed me that by committing some time to a new subject, I could do well at it too. It was a bit of a breakthrough for me personally.

The mentality didn’t change overnight, and I can’t put my finger on the main catalysts responsible for it changing, but it really has changed. I don’t ascribe it all to the fact that I studied business for a year instead of English; there were lots of things going on in this period. I was maturing and learning more about the world – it was harder to view things through such a simple lens. I remember reading the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and now think that was a bit of a turning point. He essentially breaks down a list of extremely successful people and discusses how they benefited from not only dedication and skill but also a level of luck and circumstance. It was the first time I’d seen someone paint a bigger picture of success, properly analysing some of the external factors which can play into someone becoming more proficient and successful in a key area.

It is incredibly empowering to believe that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. I don’t mean that in the cliche way that teachers or parents would use it. I simply mean that you can ‘do’ something, persevere through the tough stages, and build upon the foundation to a level of proficiency that is better than you would have started at. Early on is usually where you see the biggest improvement in a skill if you stick with it, in fact, so this stage is where you usually see the biggest and most noticeable changes. That was how I felt with guitar anyway. The first few years you improve a lot, but then you hit a bit of a ceiling where it takes a lot more time and effort, to achieve much smaller improvements in the margin of skill. It’s a fulfilling thing, but it takes a while to ingrain in your mind and behaviours. There are days when it feels like a chore, where you question whether you should be bothering and where the overwhelming emotion towards it is that you want to give up.

I’ve quipped to friends that I find the writing I do for the blog to be quite ‘cheap’ and ‘easy’. I think this is true, but it may sound more negative than I mean it to be. It isn’t that I’m not proud of the writing on the blog or that I think it is bad per se. It doesn’t really include any ‘characters’ or plotlines, though, making it easy to write. All I have to do is sit down for an hour or two and throw together some thoughts. Sometimes it takes a little longer to write, but generally, it is low-stress, easy writing. It makes it very enjoyable most of the time. It’s sort of like a therapy session; it feels like you have a captive audience simply wanting to hear your thoughts and how things are going for you, or this is how I approach it anyway. It is maybe arrogant to claim to have any audience at all, let alone a ‘captive’ one, but you know what I mean.

Having said this, I had a down period with the blog recently. I had quite a few drafts on the go but didn’t feel I was getting any of them in a place where I was happy to post them. This made me avoid writing because I didn’t know how to progress the pieces I was working on, and I struggled to feel inspired to write anything else with so many drafts in progress. They also contained a lot of ideas that I was really happy with. It seemed a shame to just delete them, but I couldn’t find a way to make them work in a way that I was happy with them. Overall, though, the blog posts are really enjoyable to write, and it is a welcome distraction from everything going on (not mentioning the ‘C’ word).

I’m still learning to enjoy fiction writing. It isn’t that I don’t enjoy any of the time I spend writing it or don’t want to spend time doing it. The difficulty comes in piecing together the narrative, figuring out the best way to portray things, writing the scenes, developing the characters etc. They’re all things that I haven’t tried to do before, and it comes with many frustrations. The whole process really plays into the hands of the critical part of my brain. I’ve always been quite self-critical, and I think I try and hold myself to a high standard. Sometimes you need to just press on for the sake of progress, though, and this is the part I am slowly learning. Instead of fretting over every word, sentence, or paragraph, sometimes you need to just write a thousand words and not care about it until later. That way, you establish a framework to operate in.

My new approach is to write out a plan on pen and paper about who my characters are, the main scenes I want to write and how they fall in the plot’s timeline. It has helped me fight through some of the more frustrating parts of writing, but I have not had a significant breakthrough with the technique. It hasn’t transformed my writing process yet, that’s for sure. I still haven’t finished a single short story that I have started, and the novel has not been progressed for a while. It is all a process that I am learning more about. I already had a lot of respect for authors, but it does give me a newfound respect. When you read a novel and everything perfectly fits together, you don’t think about how that person has built this world from nothing. They’ve agonisingly formed these characters that appear as natural as if they walk and talk in front of you when done well. You seldom see a sentence produced by a character in a book that looks out of place. That is a difficult thing to do.

I sense that my current situation in life (not mentioning the ‘C’ word) provides me with an ‘outlier’ moment. Writing is becoming an important part of my life, and I wonder if there is any way I can make some sort of career out of it. I’m not sure what that would look like, whether it would mean writing novels or doing some form of writing for more corporate purposes, such as copywriting, but I’m hoping I can do something with it. If nothing else, I hope it sticks as a hobby. Yesterday, I found out that my Dear Cancer letter had been accepted by the magazine. It will be in the June edition of the magazine. That will be the second thing I have had published in a magazine, the first being my 206-word story Hunter-Gatherer. These small successes give me hope that I may be able to turn it into something more significant than a hobby, but we’ll see.

Passion as a Life Choice

I recently read a fantastic article written by fellow blogger Dr Eric Perry titled ‘How to Find Meaning in Your Life’. Not only was it beautifully written, but the content had a profound effect on me, and linked well with a topic I was already planning on writing about – passion.

“So, what is your passion?” It is common to be asked something like this at a party or other social gathering where you don’t know many people. The question takes various forms, sometimes substituting the topic of ‘passion’ for the softer topic of ‘interests’ for example, but both are alluding to a similar thing. Someone is asking you what you enjoy in life, what excites you. When we are asked about our interests it feels less daunting, and we may feel less intimidated to answer. This is in my experience at least. Interests are just things you do to pass the time. The word ‘passion’ seems to evoke something else in a lot of us. I know that it used to intimidate me, and I would struggle to answer. “I’m not sure, I don’t really think about it,” I’d reply, cringing inside my mind and wishing I had a scripted answer for these questions that I could reel off from memory. But that wouldn’t be true passion for something, that would be a social tactic.

I have been pondering over the subject of passion and trying to think about why I’ve always found it such a difficult topic. Since my early 20’s I have found myself completely in awe of people I meet who clearly display what they are passionate about. You can see when someone is truly passionate about a topic; they can’t help but become emotive when discussing it and find ways to bring it up which are genuinely engaging and interesting. The topic is interwoven into their psyche, and how it changes the way that they analyse the world around them because of it. They seem to draw links to their passion where others may not see it, feel positive when they are given the chance to discuss it and dedicate large amounts of time to the benefit of it. A passion usually takes a lot of time, dedication and patience to develop. When I see traits like these in a person now, I feel a deep respect for them. That wasn’t always the case though, unfortunately.

When I was in school, it was easy to view people who cared about things and took time to perfect them in a negative light. The concept of a ‘nerd’ is well documented in the media that we consume. The importance of being ‘cool’ or otherwise is played up a lot in films and dramas with school-based scenes. ‘Nerd’ is a strange term which has derogatory meaning in a lot of uses of it, and it is not easily applicable to a person based only on specific rules or traits. Some kids in your class managed to be seen as ‘cool’ but openly try at their coursework and get on with teachers. Others may suffer socially for trying to work well in class though, and they may be seen to be less ‘cool’ for displaying these types of traits. Children’s biases often don’t make a lot of sense, but neither do many biases that adults have. Do we carry those biases out into the world unknowingly, never really finding impetus to challenge them? The workplace is essentially a playground for adults after all, filled with different cliques and the same chit chat and rumour fodder as school. The behaviours likely become more advanced as we mature. I am making many assumptions of course, such that being ‘cool’ is even a priority of an individual. But many of us are too immature and inexperienced in school to recognise differing motivations and priorities in life.

As I went into university and beyond, that is where I first remember the question of passion coming up in my life. You would be asked to introduce yourself regularly in new classes, attend mixers and meet many people through friends and friends of friends. Part of the introduction to official events would sometimes be to talk about something that interests you. I would sit, digging through my mind to find an interest that I could say enough about, without feeling self-conscious about it. “I play guitar, that is sort of interesting. Although I’ve stopped playing it so much since moving to uni. I like reading non-fiction, but I never remember the content of the books and I feel like I don’t know enough about the topic.” I would dig out my interests, then single-handedly find a reason that they were not interesting to anyone. It is this that made me think on the topic of self-consciousness.

In the first ‘C’ word article I wrote titled ‘Know Yourself’, I spoke a bit about my self-consciousness in terms of my friendship group and how I wondered why people liked me. This manifested itself in me believing it was because I always drank way too much and was seen as ‘fun’. It became a resentment of mine though and I felt that I couldn’t give it up, despite hating it about myself. The question about my passion threw out similar insecurities that I wasn’t fully aware of at the time. To be passionate, you had to be confident in my eyes. You needed to know more than everyone else about that subject and have no fear in discussing it. It required you to be open-minded and intelligent about your passion, always ready to learn more and challenge yourself for the betterment of it. They were all traits that I still felt were a bit ‘nerdy’, or would require me to commit myself to a subject to an extent that I wasn’t sure I could. Trying, in my stupid immature brain, wasn’t a cool thing to do. Despite feeling a large amount of respect for people I knew who were, for example, very good at playing the piano, I didn’t link that back to the concept of ‘trying’. “They are naturally good at playing piano,” I would tell myself, as if their ability was innate and everyone else needn’t bother; trying was something that you had to do if you were bad, but trying to be less bad.

I don’t know why I thought that way looking back, especially as I had practiced the guitar for years before I got to a high level of proficiency (I am not displaying a lot of modesty here, but I was pretty good (I think)). I didn’t think enough on the subject to draw that link at the time. It was easier to judge people who tried at things, and respect people who were already good at things. That leads to the next area I’ve thought on – judgement. The other thing about passion is that you must be prepared to be judged for your passion, and I was never prepared to deal with that judgement.

I feel I could write another article on judgement. It is such an interesting subject to me and it seems relevant here in my experience. In school and for a while in university, I feel like I was a very judgemental person. Reflecting now, I know that I was that way because of my own insecurities. It was easier to judge others and reassure myself that I was doing something better or more useful than them. What is more difficult to do, is to learn about their choices, contemplate why they enjoy doing something differently to you, or have different interests to you, and review your own life to see if you could learn something from them. That takes time, effort and dedication, like having a passion. It takes far more effort to be a person who searches the world with an open mind, learning about other people’s lives and finding things that may improve your own life. Being the type of person who is self-conscious and judgemental is unlikely to lead you to find a passion in life and is also unlikely to bring you any sustainable meaning or happiness. So, I want to conclude this article by discussing two of my biggest passions.

My main passion in life are people. Even though I have wrestled with a lot of self-consciousness over the years, I have learnt to really enjoy having friends around me that I love and meeting new people. It is so easy to invest your energy and time in people as you get so much feedback from them. You can help your friends deal with challenges in their life, be their soundboard when they are sad or angry, and watch them grow into themselves as they get older and learn. Not only can you help them, but you can also greatly influence their lives for the better. What is a better thing in life than investing in people around you that you love, supporting them and helping them flourish?

I also have a passion for writing. For my undergraduate degree I studied English Language. At the time I thought I only liked the subject as I seemed to do well at it without putting in much effort. I realise now that the reason I excelled in it was because I always loved writing. The process of sitting down and having a lot of thoughts on a topic but needing to find a way to express them effectively using language genuinely excited me. When I read a book that I loved, I would get excited at the way that the sentences were structured. Often I would read a paragraph repeatedly, writing down my favourite sentences from it in the notes app on my phone and reading them again and again when I was idling on a train or waiting for a friend. I used to have a list of interesting words on my phone, and I would challenge my mum on the definition of them. She always got it right, so I looked further for more complex words, but she still almost always had an inkling that was correct. The process excites me now more than ever, and the blog is giving me confidence to speak about this passion.

My challenge to you is to think about what your passion is and ask others what theirs is. If they don’t know, talk to them and help them find it out. Where they have a passion, find out about it and give them the opportunity to discuss it. See what you can learn about it. People are vehicles of experience and knowledge; better to be open minded to that experience and learn something from it. Being judgemental of it will offer no benefit to anyone, especially yourself. Indulge in their passion like you indulge in your own. You’ll feel more fulfilled for doing so.