Journaling, Editing, and Rules for Writing – Day 2

Sometimes I’ll start a sentence… – Michael Scott

I’ve been thinking about this post all day, but almost forgot to actually write it…so day 2’s off to a great start.

I never journaled as a kid. Or, rather, I would begin to journal, make it about two or three days in, and then stop. I had myriad reasons for not journaling, chief among those being that I didn’t know what to write about or how to write it. Writing in a “Dear Diary” format seemed (frankly) stupid, but I didn’t know how else to write. Was I writing to myself? What was the purpose? What from my day actually mattered enough to write about?

It wasn’t writer’s block per se; in many ways, it was more a reflection of my personality. I have difficulty picking out examples or ideas when asked a broad question, trying to brute force my thought process through my entire life to come up with examples of this, that, or the other thing, instead of having some sort of prepared list. How was I supposed to encapsulate all of this in a journal entry?

Additionally, I was already spending hours a day in my head analyzing what had happened, thinking back on conversations, planning what to say or do, or any number of other things. I also was able to go through thoughts so quickly that writing always seemed like a cumbersome process when it came to my thoughts; why take a bunch of time to type, or even more to physically write my thoughts that I could literally go through in an instant?

Then there was the editing process. It was enough to just write some paper – we needed to write a rough draft that we would then go over with a teacher which would lead to having to reread what I’d written and then do more writing and why couldn’t I just do this one time please just let there be one short right answer and let me be done. Editing was (is) not my favorite.

For these, and more, reasons, I didn’t really like writing growing up. I especially hated doing it for school, my puny 3-5 page papers that seem so small in comparison the writing I did in college and seminary. Writing didn’t come easily (or as easily as I would have liked), I found it difficult to say exactly what I was trying to say, and there were so many rules. Grammar, vocabulary, sentence/paragraph/paper structure; everything felt like a barrier. In 10th grade we took the written portion of the Basic Standards Test (BST), a standardized test that was required for Minnesota students at the time. We spent weeks leading up to the test discussing how to form a proper response, what qualified as just passing (3), really bad (1), or the best (6). I walked into the room the morning of the test fully prepared to write a 5 paragraph response with proper structure for whatever prompt we may be given. Once I opened the test, however, I encountered a prompt that was unlike what we had been practicing: it was asking us to tell a story. I experienced a dilemma then that has come up at numerous times throughout my life – do I go with the rules I was taught, or do I do what I think I should do?

Me being me (especially in high school), I went with following the rules, writing a response with a catchy beginning, three organized paragraphs with topic sentences, and a conclusion that wrapped everything up. I got a 4.

Immediately after getting the scores back I questioned whether I could have done better if I’d followed my instincts. I didn’t like writing, but I still had a sense I was better than what the score I’d gotten said (whether because I was full of myself or because I was confident, we may never know). As I continued through schooling and I continued writing, I discovered that I was good at writing (e.g. my use of the phrase “good at writing”), and that certain rules didn’t always apply. Rules changed depending on the paper/assignment, context, or point that was trying to be made. In addition, I found that I did a large portion of editing in my head. This allowed me to get 90s on papers that I would write the night or two nights before an assignment was due.

Even then, I still battled with whether I liked writing or not. It still seemed too hard, like I should only like it if it came easily.

My transition came with my political advocacy internship after my first year of seminary. Suddenly I was writing about topics I cared about in ways more like the challenge of a strategy game than an assignment. The ability to quickly lay out a logical argument and respond to an issue became fun rather than being a burden. Suddenly, I defined the purpose for writing, and being my own worst critic elevated the level of my writing rather than detracting from it.

Even then (and now), I still didn’t write terribly often. The need to back up what I say or write, especially with factual evidence. Writing just to write was still a foreign concept. This thought process has changed recently, as I continued to see content creators who I like talk more and more about how much they write, and the cases where they just write about anything to get ideas for more content. As mentioned yesterday, this is why I’m here now. I’ve never seen being more and more creative lead to more and more ideas the way I have in the last couple weeks in my own process. I still find a number of things daunting because I feel a large amount of responsibility to the content or to the ideas I’m trying to convey and discuss, and I still don’t know how I feel about keeping a journal, but here we are, chugging along and seeing what happens.

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