writing career

Why writing about writing is stupid

E-mail is great. It’s like this worldwide network of virtual mailboxes where you can send and receive electronic letters from your very own little box—right in the palm of your hand. Actually, it’s exactly that.

In my magic little box I can sign up to be on the mailing lists of all kinds of different publications, for free. Heck, I even get sent thousands of letters a month from places I wouldn’t even have thought about for absolutely no charge. Add two inches, guaranteed! I’m a pretty lucky guy.

I get little electronic “howdy-s” from my boss at work. I get sparsely punctuated and over capitalized hand-typed messages from my mom. I even receive a weekly e-newsletter from the Professional Disc Golf Association, and it’s probably the best 4 minutes of my week.

Of all the mailing lists I’ve willingly submitted to, the strangest e-mails I get are from websites that are wholly dedicated to writing about writing. They’re vigorously set on talking the heck out of a subject without ever doing it—hell bent on a journey that will never reach its destination.

I’ve been receiving these e-mails about writing for months. By this point I’ve read a couple hundred articles. I always thought that these were my ticket to writing success.

After all, the best way to learn is to study. Except reading about writing about writing is one of the worst things you can do to learn how to write. (And now I’m writing about reading about writing about writing. Which, I suppose is one step better than what I was doing 15 minutes ago which was lying in my bed thinking about writing about reading about writing about writing.)

Hell—at the very least, just slash all of those steps except for the last one. Just write.

The proverbial writer’s…ball

Writing about writing is sort of like taking a basketball to the gym and then continually shooting baskets at your gym bag. You’re going through the motions. You’re just continually aiming for the wrong goal. Writing is supposed to be something, not just conversational chat about it.

Don’t get me wrong. These sites have been very inspirational. Inspiring and encouraging in the way your grandmother encourages you by liking every single one of your Facebook posts, no matter if they come at the hands of a less than lucid Friday night or a neatly cropped caffeine-infused selfie session.

Or think of it like going to flight school, taking a seat in the cockpit and instead of telling you how to turn the plane on, the instructors repeatedly bombard you with placards of motivational statements. You can do it! You’re a pilot! You just need to do pilot things!

You need something a lot more than just encouragement to put type on a page. Just because you write doesn’t mean you’re going to be any good. Just because you’ve developed a unique voice doesn’t mean it’s pleasant to listen to.

Picasso wasn’t good just because he painted and was different. Picasso was good because he knew what he was doing. It helped immensely that it was original and exciting. But it was first incredibly high quality work accomplished through years of study and practice.

The write way (ah—see what I did there?)

Here’s a better idea than reading writing about writing: read a ton of actual books. Pick a subject and read everything you can get your hands on. Read every day. You can even read your e-mail as long as you avoid ones about writing about writing.

You need to study the art and craft of writing, not have your ego stroked. When looking for instruction on how to write, find material that chooses real pieces of writing and analyzes it. If you need to dabble in writing about writing, say for a school project or something, write about the craft.

Don’t just publish article after article that says, “I’m writing about writing. I’m writing about writing. I’m writing about writing—see? Look! I’m writing! And if it’s this easy, you can do it too! Hurray for winners!”

A mouthful on writing

I read this stuff. I consumed it like regularly spaced meals. It left me with the feeling that I knew how to write, but when it came to sitting in front of the blank page I realized I had no substantial energy to even know where to get started.

I had dozens of little phrases telling me how to motivate myself to do my best work, but I had no idea what that work was to be. I had gorged myself on the shiny plastic fruit sitting in the middle of the writer’s desk and never developed physically as a writer.

If you want to develop as a writer, focus on your passion, your cause, your reason for writing. Create a subject matter that you truly care about and focus all your efforts there. Then find help with the craft of writing.

Just steer clear of the stuff on writing about writing. Which means if you’ve made it this far, you might just want to mark this article for the trash too.

Happy learning and writing. Now get to work.