Writing Will Always Love You
Have you ever heard of painter’s block? Well, neither have I.
When a painter is sad, he paints a dark landscape. When a dancer feels lonely, she expresses it in her moves. When a singer is furious, he sings an angry song. And when the pianist’s heart is broken, he plays a melody to weep for.
When a writer is sad, angry, frustrated, or depressed, she watches Netflix and binge-eats ice cream. See what went wrong here?
Instead of processing her feelings in her art, she buried them. That’s nothing to be proud of and she knows it, so she drowns the shame in something else. Food. Sex. Entertainment. That’s the writer’s vicious cycle.
But why isn’t this cycle being equally vicious to other artists? Why is writer’s block such a unique problem? Why aren’t there articles upon articles about musician’s dilemma, singer’s dry throat, and painter’s brushphobia? Is writing really that much harder? Of course not.
It’s not that writing is special among the arts. It’s that, from a young age, we’re taught writing isn’t an art at all. That it’s not meant to process feelings. For some reason, it’s plain-as-day obvious that painting, singing, and dancing can’t possibly happen without emotion, yet writing is filed right between math and history. An analytical skill, is it not? Concerned with facts, is it not? Yes. Definitely. But it’s much more than that.
This “more than that” part is the one that’s swept under the rug in most, if not all education systems. In school, writing is about rules, about grammar, about stripping every last ounce of emotion from the craft. Of course, by the time we graduate, we believe it really is a soulless endeavor.
We see writing as a career skill. A way to conjure resumes, cover letters, and legal documents, which, unsurprisingly, often bore both readers and writers. Writing serves all those pragmatic purposes, but not looking beyond them is like claiming math is only good for accounting when it’s what gave us computers, rockets, and just about everything we know about the universe.
“Writing is supposed to be neutral” may be the biggest lie we’re told in school.
The truth is, just like singing, dancing, and painting, writing is inseparable from your feelings. With every word, you also put a piece of yourself down on the page. But if you’re paralyzed by rules, test scores, and your teacher’s vision of an ideal five-point discussion, you can’t find the right piece. You’ll keep choosing the wrong ones. School exacerbates this problem because every time you don’t live up to its artificial standards, you’re punished.
It’s “the system of limited answers,” as Neil deGrasse Tyson might call it:
“There’s a spelling bee and you have to spell the word ‘CAT.’ One student spells it ‘C-A-T.’ The person got it right. The next person spells it ‘K-A-T.’ That’s wrong.
The third person spells it ‘X-Q-W.’ Do you realize that is marked equally as wrong as the ‘K-A-T?’ When you could argue that ‘K-A-T’ is a better spelling for ‘CAT’ than ‘C-A-T.’ Dictionaries know this because that’s how they spell it phonetically!
And so we’ve built a system for ourselves where there is an answer and everything else is not the answer, even when some answers are better than others. So our brains are absent the wiring capable of coming up with an original thought.”
The first time you’re told that ‘gonna’ is not an appropriate way to spell ‘going to,’ you’re just confused. After all, in the real world, that’s perfectly fine. Over time, however, it gets so tiring to be punished for this the same way people spelling it ‘gunter’ are that, eventually, you give up. You resign. From then on out, you spell it ‘going to’ — and so does everyone else.
As a result, we all emerge from school spelling ‘cat’ as ‘c-a-t,’ and we all start our cover letters with “Dear Ms. X, I am writing to you today to apply for the position of Y.” No wonder many people have no desire to write at all.
The real world is not a system of limited answers. It’s a place of near-unlimited interpretations. Each perspective can solve different problems to different degrees, but almost no perspective is useless and flat out wrong. Whatever rules there may or may not be, often, you’re rewarded for breaking them. Show us a new way to look at things, and, maybe, you’ll change our minds.
Isn’t that what great artists do? Beethoven took music from a humdrum pastime pleasantry to an art that captures the entire human spectrum of emotions. Frida Kahlo showed us that painting isn’t only about capturing the world, but about finding our sometimes complicated place in it. Fred Astaire brought a lightness to dancing on film no one could have imagined, especially not the men of his time.
We learn about these people in school. We understand they broke the roles. Yet, when it comes to writing, we’re not supposed to emulate them. Do as the grammar book says, not as Hemingway did. But style is just like the key of a song or the beat of a dance — if you don’t like it, choose a different one. Make something new. Whatever you do, do it with emotion.
The only reason you struggle with writing is that you think it’s not okay to write with and about your feelings. Well, it is. That’s what it’s for.
You don’t have to publish your writing. You don’t have to turn each piece into a show. You just have to do what any real artist does with their craft: make it yours. Use it to process your emotions. And find out who you really are.
Whether you choose to show us or not, writing will always love you.