Like Drawing Blood: Writing in 2019

Thousands of words written on a white wall

This article almost didn’t happen.

The initial brief was simple: write a story about an issue affecting young people. My mind swam with ideas—the housing market, climate change, an acquaintance of mine who recently joined a cult. Yet every time I sat down to write, I couldn’t. I would sit and stare, then despair, and finally give up, having not written anything. I could not even decide on a topic for my article. I was paralysed.

One of my favourite quotes about writer’s block from The National’s lead singer Matt Berninger came to mind: ‘Writing is like trying to squeeze drops of blood from your forehead.’

I empathised.

As the days struggling to put pen to paper stretched on, I started to wonder, is there something about the current era that we’re living in that makes it so hard to just write? Particularly for younger writers like myself.

With my deadline looming, I decided to turn to the words of some other young writers for consolation and answers.  

I don’t write shit ’cause I ain’t got time,

‘Cause my seconds, minutes, hours go to the almighty dollar.

Lil Wayne

This is the first line that always comes into my mind when I’m having trouble writing. In its brilliant simplicity, this line points to perhaps the number one reason why it can be so hard to just get some writing done in 2019—the demands of work. Over the past few decades, the expectations of work have changed and people have less and less time and space to commit to writing.

Why does this affect young people’s ability to write? Simply, finding solitude is hard when your work is sending you emails at 10 pm that require your attention. It’s a self-indulgent maxim to say that writing requires solitude, but most writers believe it’s true. Most writers need at least some seclusion for words and ideas to form, change and mix together in whatever strange alchemy it is that makes writing good.

Of course, the growing demands of work aren’t restricted to young people, but there’s evidence that young people in the workforce are the ones most expected to put in ‘unofficial overtime’ and to be constantly contactable; that is, to drop whatever writing they’re doing and answer their phone and emails whenever their employers decide to contact them.

In my current job as a copywriter, I once got a call from my boss’ boss at 9.30 pm asking me if I could come into work immediately for an overnight shift. Luckily, I couldn’t make it; otherwise, the constant voice in my head saying, “you should be happy you even have a job… if you don’t go in, they’ll give your job to somebody else” would have likely been too loud to ignore.

The paradox of choice’ is the major reason behind our miseries [as writers].

Manpreet Kaur

Another great quote. The word “miseries” really expresses that overdramatic, woe-is-me feeling you get when you’re struggling to write. But Kaur also speaks to a fundamental reason why it can be so hard being a young writer in 2019—the overabundance of choice in almost all aspects of modern life.

Put simply, with so many options as to what to write about, choosing a topic and sticking to it can feel almost impossible. That’s not to mention the internet providing almost unlimited reference points and sources of information to wade through.

Again, this overabundance of choice isn’t experienced exclusively by young people, but there’s evidence that it’s a particular issue for millennials. Why? Perhaps it’s because young people have been raised with more choice than other generations—where to live, where to work, what to order for dinner through the apps on our smartphones. In trying to choose between these seemingly limitless options, young writers like myself are burning ourselves out. We have less energy to put towards the hard choices of writing.

But where to go from here—if writing is harder in today’s work and choice obsessed culture, particularly for young writers, then what can be done about it?

The internet is already full of tips for overcoming writer’s block, and there’s little more to add to what’s already been written. Instead, I’ll leave you with one last of my favourite ever quotes about writing:

I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.

Truman Capote

Even the most acclaimed writers struggle. When you do start writing, and you will, don’t beat yourself up if the first draft is rough.

Keep writing.

Hugh is a fulltime copyeditor, occasional blogger, and general believer that “a writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people”. He is also currently a member of the Grattan Street Press sales and marketing team.

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