Sarah Badat
Sarah Badat

Writing about not writing

It’s been almost five weeks since I last wrote a column for this blog. Buzzing on enthusiasm after my page initially went live, I wrote two columns in my first week and tracked the page hits with the same concern as I would my own pulse.

The initial post-publishing glow lasted longer than I imagined. I spent days emailing links to my page to all and sundry in my address book. I checked for comments online every hour. I re-read each of my posts about a hundred times.

If you’ve read anything you’ve written close to a hundred times you’ll know that around read number ten you start to notice the little cracks in the syntax. The words you chose start to look awkward in the places you assigned them to stand. The sentences start to induce frowns. The paragraphs have you scratching the side of your head as you try to figure out what it is that made you dare to call yourself a writer.

All this merciless mulling prevented me from writing anything new. I started to become obsessed with how my writing was being received: How many page hits? How many comments? How many shares and retweets? I began considering how I could entice readers, get their attention and have them say nice things in the comments section. My column ideas were becoming more bizarre by the day, as I tried to think of ways to delight and intrigue readers.

As I researched news story after news story in attempt to trigger an “AHA!” moment, I came across one sophisticated opinion story after the next. Panic crept close as I read the work of better, more experienced writers. Everything I wrote felt so small in comparison, so disingenuous.

As a regular journal-er, I tried to make sense of my hesitation to write the only way I know how: in black ink on the pages of my Moleskin. I looked at entries from the last month and noticed a common thread. My “inability” to write had caused me to question my own skill (or perceived lack thereof) as a writer. Was this really the job for me?

This question made me curious about other writers’ (in my novice rank) experiences and agonies. I searched for stories by my contemporaries in the hope of finding any small gleam of reflection on own practice. I didn’t find any and it made me concerned that as writers we don’t use the platforms we have to talk about what we actually do, and how it makes us feel to do what we do.

Every word posted by my fellow opinion writers and I represents a little part of our knowledge and worldview, and therefore a part of who we are. It takes immense effort to beat our views into a shape that is presentable to you, the reader. It takes true grace to accept the nasty comments and keep writing.

Just like you at your job, dear reader, we as writers can’t claim to be at the top of our game at all times. We try to present stories that are honest, interesting and thought-provoking, but we don’t always get them right. And worst of all, we can’t bask in the comfort of anonymity, which you so enjoy.

It’s not easy to write an opinion column and share it with you. Bad comments aside, I’d be willing to bet that even the most confident of writers see room for improvement with every re-read, that can sometimes provoke the onset of a pity-party for one.

As our opinions as writers change with time, as we read more and learn new things, our older writing can crawl out from underneath the floorboards to haunt us. Like that Facebook profile picture you uploaded in 2008 that seemed like a good idea at the time but now, not so much.

What the point of this post is, is that as writers, no matter how self-conscious we may feel about our past efforts, what counts is that we made an effort in the first place. There is no such thing as the perfect opinion column. It’s OK to have an “off-day” (or week, or in my case, month). What is important is that we keep trying to write and that we write more about this “trying to”.

Lastly to you, dear readers, before you decide to knock my work with a cacophony of insulting comments, which are in no way intelligent or informed, just think about how you’d like it if I were to come to your office and shout expletives at you from reception. By all means, be critical where you feel it is warranted, but be courteous in your critique. That’s all we as writers ask.

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