Authenticity and creativity go hand in hand. To be creative is to be different.
“Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.” ― Bertrand Russell
When it comes to great writing, I think there’s one more important factor: confidence. Creativity, authenticity, and confidence are the trifecta. Confidence might sound like a weird one, but it’s necessary if you’re going to put yourself out there, stand behind your work, and risk being different.
“An essay is a place to meet honest readers. You don’t want to spoil your house by putting bars on the windows to protect against dishonest ones.” – Paul Graham
I love this quote by Paul Graham from his piece “How To Write Usefully.” He describes the inevitability of readers misinterpreting, misconstruing, or outright exaggerating your positions from your pieces. His point is that there’s no reason to spoil the beauty of the piece by riddling it with unnecessary clarifications. Even if some minority believe those clarifications to be necessary, remember: it’s your piece. Sometimes you just have to trust your own intuition and judgment as a writer. Once you reach enough people, you’re bound to find people who disagree with you. That’s just part of it. If they have valid points, address them. Otherwise, move on. Not everybody agrees about everything and that’s what makes life so interesting.
Continue forward with confidence
You owe it to yourself, your audience, and your work, to be confident. I don’t mean confidence that you’re always right or never wrong. I’m referring to self confidence. To put yourself out there, bet on yourself, and take risks. Part of entering the arena is opening yourself up to criticism. Constructive criticism and feedback are some of the most valuable things you can get as a writer. However, along with the constructive can come the negative, unhelpful, and mean-spirited criticisms too. Accept that criticism will happen and then deal with it as you must. The way I try to go about it is: learn from the people trying to teach me and ignore the ones trying to bring me down.
More importantly, don’t succumb to the critics. If you do well enough, you’re guaranteed to be on the receiving end of some very messed up interactions and assumptions. People will try to project motives and beliefs onto you. They’ll try to tell you how to feel, who you are, or your motivations.
Just remember, nobody else gets to dictate any of this about you – unless you let them. Misery loves company and some people just can’t help themselves.
With Freedom Comes Responsibility
This part is especially relevant in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic with some people unexpectedly trying their hand at telecommuting or working from home. It’s weird. There’s something about having very clearly defined boundaries for your work and home life. We have routines and whether we realize it or not, we have triggers that help us prepare for work. Working from home can disrupt that. Another quote from the same Paul Graham essay that describes this new found freedom:
“What’s really going on is that you have different expectations for yourself. You’re like a parent saying to a child ‘we can sit here all night till you eat your vegetables.’ Except you’re the child too.” – Paul Graham.
The parent in you knows what you need to do, but sometimes the child just isn’t having it. Then we find ourselves in a stalemate… With ourselves. There will be more opportunities for distraction, that’s just part of it. Do the best you can. If you find that your expectations haven’t yet been calibrated to your current situation, remind yourself that it takes time to acclimate. Accept that you won’t be working at 100 percent efficiency from day 1, but you can adapt.
Too all over the place?
One of my biggest fears so far as a writer is being too all over the place. Jumping from one topic to another without sufficient transition, explanation, or reason. Rereading what I’ve just written I wonder to myself, “Is this too much?” or “what am I even talking about?” But I believe that it’s all a part of the creative process. Experimenting, creating, and testing. Trying to connect seemingly unrelated topics through common themes or threads. It’s possible that nobody cares. Maybe people will think the piece sucks. Or just maybe it will be my most successful piece ever and lead to all sorts of new opportunities.
You never know.
I definitely want to maintain a level of comprehension to my pieces. I described earlier that I think following threads and letting yourself become a bit distracted can be useful for creativity. But I also realize that just jumping around random topics is of little value or interest to the reader. As with everything in life, I strive to fall somewhere in the middle. To stay relevant enough to the central idea or theme, but to be bold enough to cross into different fields and disciplines – searching for connections never before made.
Reasons to be optimistic
Now, this piece really has been all over the place, but it’s time for the best part. I would like to leave you with a couple more quotes from the essay by Paul Graham. They’re great reasons to be optimistic about writing and the opportunities available to us.
“How many essays are there left to write though? The answer to that question is probably the most exciting thing I’ve learned about essay writing. Nearly all of them are left to write.” – Paul Graham
The limitation of great essays isn’t due to there only being a finite number of great essays. Historically, it’s been due in part to the lack of ability. Now, the greatest limitation is self-imposed and due to the lack of people pushing the boundaries, being authentic, and following their hearts. There are gems still out there all over the place, just waiting to be discovered. But in our case, they’re just waiting to be created. Writing is a land of limitless opportunities and potential – you just have to be willing to look for it.
“Now, thanks to the internet, there’s a path. Anyone can publish essays online. You start in obscurity, perhaps, but at least you can start. You don’t need anyone’s permission.” – Paul Graham
Probably the most important, most relevant, and most powerful reasons of all to be optimistic. Fifty years ago, the entire landscape for writers was completely and utterly different. There were these things called newspapers and book publishers and they were the gatekeepers of writing and message spreading. If you wanted any shot at becoming a writer, you had to play by their rules. You had to appease them because refusing to could result in your job. Now, we’re playing by whole different set of rules. Sure it’s still the same game, but we’re on version 50.
Publishers are still important. Companies with deep pockets can push their pieces around at a rate that can make it hard to compete with. But in this day and age, there are very few barriers for entry. If you’re reading this piece, chances are you’ve already qualified. Just by having internet access and a device to write on, anyone can become a writer and start publishing whatever they want.
We’re living in an age with totally permission-less publishing. An 8 year old can post, as does the president, as can prisoners. What a time to be alive.
The majority of the quotes that I used in this article are from a short essay I highly recommend by Paul Graham called “How To Write Usefully.” Another person that inspired a section of this piece was Naval Ravikant, one of my favorite thinkers. If you’re interested in more about him, I’ll link his site here.
I will post the full length article in the near future. Follow me to keep up to date. Thanks to everyone for the feedback. As always, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns, I encourage you to share your thoughts. Thanks for reading!