It’s not often that someone asks me why I write, but when they do, the answer is always simple: because I love it. The next obvious question is why I love it, and the answer to this is not so immediately clear – but why?! Writing a pretty personal thing; I’ve never really been asked to explain my motives or reasons, and in a way that makes me appreciate this assignment for shamelessly pointing its finger and asking me to somehow finally answer those questions.
The greatest obstacle I have run into so far has been choosing a creative framework for the assignment. I have some idea about what I want to say, but being the kind of perfectionist and eternally dissatisfied writer that I am, I’m never happy simply saying what I want to say without a substantial stab at something deeper. As it stands, my first draft for the “Why I Write” essay is a crazy Pollock-y blend of red, black, and blue fonts, with certain sections highlighted in bright green and others splattered with a series of question marks and exclamation points. Each color represents my relative attachment to what I’ve written: words in black font are there to stay, words in red font are important but need major revision, and I am just so-so about the blue words. The green-highlighted sections signal that I might need to find a different home for that specific group of ideas. It helps to visually organize myself and prioritize the writing this way, and it gives me several starting points when I’ve spent more than two or three hours staring at a computer screen and feel like I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing or where to go next.
Working through the challenge of potential frameworks is going to take a lot of time, particularly a lot of time spent in a really uncomfortable chair. It might sound ridiculous, but I’ve found that the only way I can truly focus on transferring my best thoughts onto paper is when I’m sitting somewhere really uncomfortable. The squishy red chairs at Starbucks might be great for enjoying an extra hot chocolate and a Chonga bagel, yet they don’t quite provide the most favorable conditions for cranking out thoughtful writing when your head is swirling with forty grams of sugar. When I find myself in sticky spots like this and really need to focus, I plop myself in a really hard chair (preferably in the Law Library) and/or somewhere with ridiculously bright lighting to minimize my chances of dozing off.
I don’t want to make any sweeping generalizations, but I would venture to guess that a challenge common to all writers is overcoming their pride for their first drafts, something I think Anne Lamott strikes gold with in her piece “Shitty First Drafts.” I particularly love how she says that “all good writing begins with terrible first efforts.” It really lifts a lot of pressure when you come to terms with the fact that any effort is a start, and you can save any judgments for later when “you fix it up…[and] try to say what you have to say more accurately” in that final lap. When I used to take notes in high school, I would be so obsessive about not having to cross anything out, not having to start a new line on a second page with two minutes left in the class, etc. But I was the only one who would be reading those notes, so what did it matter? I wasn’t being graded on aesthetics or even the contents of those notes; it took a very high dose of diligence to rid myself of that obsessive, proud habit of having perfect notes every single time, and I think I will have to apply the same Lamott-esque mindset to my first draft for this assignment: to be content with the fact that this is not the final draft, that it will get better, once it all gets out of my head.
What a relief.