I was watching Almost Famous for not the first time and I saw the movie from a completely different perspective—the perspective of a writer. Normally I’m watching William, the main character, deal with the rock and roll lifestyle and his love interest while touring with the band—the fact that he has a writing assignment is just how he gets into this situation. This time, the process of his article being published as a cover story in Rolling Stone magazine struck me. I was so happy for his success that it made me think about why I write.
When I was in seventh grade, I had a homework assignment to write a poem. As with most homework, I put the assignment off. And then put it off some more. And then just a bit more until it was late on the night before the due date and I just wasn’t in the mood to write, so I set my alarm for 5 AM and decided to churn it out before I walked to school.
During Buffalo winters, it’s pretty damn dark and cold at that time of the morning. When the buzzing of my clock radio startled me from my sleep, I was mostly inspired to dive deeper under the covers and stay warm. Poetry wasn’t oozing from my hibernating brain, but I was a good student and didn’t want to get a zero on this assignment. It was this stick that motivated me to get up, flick on the lamp sitting atop my desk, which had been painted a dull green by my mother in an effort to make the natural wood look better (man, we had style problems in the ’70s), and write the poem. It was a short piece entitled “We Power the Ride” and was inspired by my experience of rowing a small wooden boat out on the glass-smooth waters of a Canadian lake while listening to a loon dive under water and reappear on the surface many yards away. Since I had this experience every summer on our family vacations, I thought it would be easy to form into a poem. The words flowed quickly and easily, causing me to assume it was lame. Crap work or not, I decided to hand it in. Even dribble like this had to score higher than a blank sheet of paper.
The next day, I saw my poem hanging on the wall in the classroom decorated with an A and the words, “Great work!” My teacher even took the time to pull me aside and tell me how much she loved my poem and that it was real and descriptive and powerful. This thing I wrote at the very last minute that struck me as barely worth submitting had touched her. Amazing. She encouraged me to keep writing and said I had a talent for it.
Over the years, I’ve toyed with the idea of a career as a writer. I took time off between ventures to write, but never spent enough time at the task because I had to earn money to feed my family. After an unpleasant separation from my business partners, I struggled for the next year with a lack of self-confidence and direction about where I was heading professionally. I decided it would be cathartic to write a book about the experience and worked on it for several months. Over the next year I edited, revised, and rewrote chapter after chapter. Some were so painful to write that it took weeks to get up the courage to go back and edit them. My goal was to be as authentic as possible with my writing, to bare my soul.
Soul baring was harder than I expected. There were moments when I broke down in tears while typing my story. I’d get done with a few paragraphs and have to give myself time to recover. At one point I asked Judy why I was doing this to myself. No one was going to publish this, so why bother with all this pain? As my wife always does, she encouraged me to keep writing; to create something good out of a bad experience.
After about a year and a half of work, I sent my latest draft to a trusted friend to read. He was very honest—as I knew he would be—and said that I didn’t dig into enough detail. The story was good and covered all the facts, but he wanted to know what was going on below the surface, including the sights, sounds, smells—everything. My concern was that this book was already too long and I was shoving too much of my personal life down someone’s throat. Why would they want to invest more time to read a longer narrative? It made perfect sense after he explained how much more present and invested people would be in my story with more vivid descriptions, but I just couldn’t go through it again. I couldn’t live that time of my life one more time and with more detail, so I set the dozens of drafts aside in an archive folder on my computer and put the project to rest.
That investment of time and emotion wasn’t wasted. I truly learned so much from the experience. I learned that I loved to write even if I never made a dime from it. I learned that writing was a creative and iterative process. I learned to throw away paragraphs or pages that didn’t fit the timing or flow—even if I loved the words. And I learned that sharing what I lived might actually be worth someone’s time to read. Life is about making connections and so many authors have connected with me through their works over the years.
When I started my previous blog, Entrepreneurial Seduction, I wanted to help others who were starting a business avoid the mistakes I was making. This was not meant to be a polished narrative of my experiences, but a raw telling of what was happening in the moment. It was a way to give back to all those who were helping me make another go at running my own software company by giving everyone a blow-by-blow of what I was doing—right or wrong. Frankly, I chickened out at one point to avoid casting any shadows on my company that might cause customers to have concern about the potholes I was hitting. Articles started to get left in the drafts folder and after several of those withered there, I delayed writing new posts. The lag between articles became longer and longer until it was barely worth anyone’s time to check into my site for content.
Another problem was that my blog was so specific, I never felt like I could write about random occurrences—the many personal thoughts and experiences I was enduring. It was too constraining. I thought about starting a second personal blog, but then I felt the pang of guilt. If I’m behind on articles for my business blog, how could I cheat on it with my personal one? I trapped myself and killed any desire to write. Guilt is a horrible thing. It twists you up in knots and gnaws away at you.
The massive shift in my world last year was the break I needed to reboot my writing. So here I am publishing on a much more consistent basis and I love it. Writing satisfies a passion deep within me. Hearing that what I write touches someone takes me back to seventh grade and the awe I felt when my teacher was moved by my poem.
Writing is creation. It is love. Pain. Hurt. Happiness. Success. Failure. Writing is a release. Thank you for allowing me to write for you and for the time you spend reading my work. I hope you have a way to experience this kind of joy. For me, writing is how I allow my soul to smile.