Is it good or bad? Is it good or bad?
I had a conversation with a friend recently about writing and blogging (my friend’s main outlet for writing is her blog and newsletter). She’d written a fresh post, tried something new, and was hesitating before publishing it.
She’d written something really raw and real, she said, and wondered if she should send it to her readers. Was it any good? Could I take a look?
I love her newsletters, so I looked at it right away. And this piece was something else: it was uncontrolled, beautiful, moving, intense, and real. It was honest and vulnerable and colourful. I told her not to send it out.
Because it had come from her deep mind. She’d written it in a flow state. It was full of metaphors and non-sequiturs. It was beautiful, unsettling and true, but it wasn’t ready to share publicly yet. It wasn’t good or bad: critique was not possible at this point. It was a nutrient-packed writing sprout. It was still for her.
When you write something from the flow state, it’s coming from a deep place of non-judgment. It’s the place where images can come to you because you don’t have an agenda for them. It’s where you can write freely, without eyeing the “finished product” – whether that’s a scene, a story, a book, or a blog post. In flow, images are just allowed to exist as images, for no reason, for no outcome.
This is a rare and necessary place for writers to hang out. Obviously.
The thing is, if you’re on a productivity track, or (shudder) a “like” track – i.e. collecting and counting comments, subscriptions, follows and shares – then it can be extra difficult for you to hang out in a place that can’t be quantified.
After we write something, right away we want to know if it’s any good or not. That’s why we reread what we write – to check it out, to judge it. I don’t reread anything I write right away anymore. I have learned that it’s way better for me to read my writing a day or more later, after I’ve forgotten the details.
If you’re a blogger, you can publish your writing online right away and then see what other people say about it before you even have time to let it be itself. This can be a powerful and justifiable extension of your own inner critic. It can also be addictive.
If you are quick to publish your writing online, ask yourself: are you waiting to see what other people say (or how many likes you get, or if people unfollow you after you post) so you can avoid hanging out in that uncertain, unquantifiable, it-might-be-good it-might-be-bad creation mode?
We are so uncomfortable with uncertainty, we’d rather send our vulnerable work out there and have it rejected than sit with unfinished writing and feel the woozy feeling of not knowing if it’s any good or not.
Sitting with that woozy feeling will bring you closer to yourself and your best writing. You will learn things that you can only learn from being there. If you distract yourself from being in that uncertain place, you will miss what it is teaching you.
Three powerful things you can learn from waiting and paying attention:
What you really wanted to say but didn’t even know you wanted to say.
What your writing is teaching you about your current situation.
What your writing needs from you in order for you to expand.
Do you really want to write something good? Do you want to write something real, affecting, and true?
That woozy feeling of not knowing is what it feels like to do that.
With practice, the sick feeling of not knowing shifts. It can become less frightening and more exhilarating. You have to override your fear default and keep going, though. The moment you feel like stopping – even if that’s stopping to share with everyone – this is the exact moment you should push yourself a bit more.
The first few times you write from a flow state and try something new or raw or strange or deeply true, you’ll have a feeling that what you just did might be brilliant, or it might be ridiculous. You won’t be able to tell.
Then you’ll want to do something to make this uncertain feeling go away. This might not even be a conscious action: watch yourself and see what you do to counter the feeling.
You’ll want to publish the piece, burn it, turn around and go back and unwrite it. You’ll want to read it to your girlfriend after dinner. You’ll want to send it to The New Yorker. You’ll want to quit. You’ll want to cry. Anything to get a reaction! Is it good or bad? Is it good or bad?
You’ll feel disoriented. You might falter and tell yourself that you’re not cut out for this kind of thing. Surely a real writer doesn’t feel so discombobulated, so vulnerable, so uncertain. A real writer knows when she’s in the zone, trusts it, and goes on with confidence, right?
If you are feeling uncertain about something you’ve written, if you went into a flow state and wrote without thinking and touched upon something that feels charged, and yet you can’t tell if it’s really good or if it’s really bad: Welcome!
This is what writing feels like.
Photo credit (top): Jiawei Zhao on Unsplash.