If my feelings keep changing even as I understand them enough to write them down, then how am I ever supposed to publish anything?
Here’s what happens every time I get excited about writing a blog post: I dump three thousand words into my text editor, whittle them down to a more reasonable amount, coerce them into a polished draft, format them for publication, and immediately realize that everything I’ve written is completely false. At this point, having found out that I’ve produced a thousand words of lies and fabrications, I have no choice but to throw all of it away.
Then I get excited about a different idea and do it all over again.
In the last six weeks—since the day I published my final weeknote—I’ve finished writing four complete blog posts and thrown them all into the trash without showing them to a single living soul.
It’s not that I hate my writing, or that I’m afraid of sharing it with the world. Humility and discretion are qualities I’ve never been accused of possessing. No, the problem is that the simple act of writing down my feelings, opinions, or beliefs changes them beyond recognition. As I go from idea to rough draft to a polished blog post, my real feelings twist and mutate to a degree that the words I’ve committed to the page no longer represent what I believe to be true.
Or, rather than changing them outright, sometimes the act of writing makes my beliefs and opinions more nuanced. My boldfaced takes about hustle culture or large language models get buried under more and more qualifiers until the final thesis of my writing is reduced to a noncommittal “it depends”.
Writing is thinking. It’s a platitude that gets repeated time and time again in every lecture, book, essay, and
tweet toot skeet about writing. Having heard it repeated all my life, I’ve always known on a logical level that writing down my beliefs would make me question them. But the problem with platitudes is that they don’t really sink in until you’ve experienced them for yourself.
Now that I’ve experienced what writing is thinking means, this truism has finally left somewhat of an impression on the soggy birthday cake that is my brain. I’m also starting to understand why it’s true. Why would something as simple as writing down the words that are already inside my head make me question them?
This is what happens: as I take the nebulous swirl of feelings and opinions in my head and attempt to pin them down into something more concrete for a blog post, I’m forced to interrogate them in a way that I can’t do while they’re still being pumped out by the fog machine in my hypothalamus. Writing down my beliefs severs the very personal connection I have with them, putting a greater distance between myself and my thoughts. This allows me to view them more objectively, almost as if they were written by a complete stranger. Under this scrutiny, they either dissipate into smoke or turn into something else entirely.
That doesn’t mean trying to pin down these feelings is pointless. It’s still useful work, even if it doesn’t result in any published blog posts. Every time I write down what I feel with the intention of communicating it to another human being, I learn something new about myself. Whether the writing rings true or not, whether I publish it or not, I still end up with more self-knowledge than I started with. Any activity that helps me learn more about myself is worth investing time into, even if it results in no extrinsic rewards.
I’m starting to make peace with the fact that most of the writing I do while doing this internal work will forever remain in my private journal. If I want to write things that draw from my very personal beliefs, feelings, and convictions, then I will have to be okay with throwing away thousands of words of perfectly good prose. If this means that my Internet friends never get to hear the real dubstep of my soul, so be it.
But all of this still leaves me in a pickle. I very much want to write in public, and I want my writing to be deeply personal above all else. If my feelings keep changing even as I understand them enough to write them down, then how am I ever supposed to publish anything?
I don’t have a permanent solution to this. However, at least for the moment, I feel like I need to anchor my writing to something outside of myself. This could be a piece of media that speaks to me, somebody else’s writing, an event that left an impression on me, a news story, or anything else in the world outside of my own self.
That doesn’t mean I stop telling my own personal truth. It just means that I use something outside of myself as a starting point for my writing, and then I let my own truth flow from there.
Maybe I won’t need this crutch in the future, but for now I just want to write and publish as much as I can. I’m happy to try anything that will help me get there.