Daniel Eden, Designer

Learning How To Write

It feels like it’s been quite some time since I wrote anything. That’s not the case at all, in reality. Far from it, in fact. I write thousands of words every single week, in microscopic thought-bites, scattered around the web on Twitter, Facebook, Dribbble, GitHub—anywhere there’s a sign up form, there are probably some words from yours truly. More often than not, they’re somewhere along the lines of “Wow, it’s been a while since I was here! Time to get back into it.”

Except it’s never the time. It’s never even the time here, on my own blog. You see, writing is a very special beast indeed. I find myself ever so tangled in the syntaxes and conventions and environments and mindsets and processes and rituals of writing that I forget to ever… write. To sit down and button up and put words on a page or a screen. I spend countless hours ruffling papers and tickling keyboards, researching the correct and appropriate usages of various dashes, relentlessly perfecting my text editor of choice and counting words like some kind of mad accountant; usually until my better half rolls over and tells me to “Stop it, it’s 3 in the morning” or something of the sort.

Designing doesn’t really have this baggage. At least you know where you stand with design. It’s quite easy to click a mouse and think some things and within some time have a grid or a nice poster or something. It’s all good and well making systems and containers and shells for content, but the content—the meat—is a little trickier.

I quite recently reclaimed weekends. We’ve spent the weekends of the last 4 months or so massaging our lives into a new home. Moving across the world in nothing but a pair of suitcases, and then moving across the city in what I can only describe as possibly the most quickly accumulated and vast collection of Things You Find In An Apartment the world has ever seen. Having these weekends suddenly empty to make room for the mythical “free time” I’ve heard so much about has been very nice indeed, but also rather daunting.

Suddenly, there’s the pressure to write. To be the writer I want to be. But for who? For my reader? I expect not. I doubt there’s a single person out there who feverishly refreshes their browser, gasping for more words to wax over, especially on my own site. Further to the point, I so happened to spend some time burying my writing under hard-to-find links to give myself a chance to figure out exactly what I want my blog to be. What is a blog? What is a website? Who knows? I feel as though my website shouldn’t be called a website and my blog a blog, but rather just “things.” Places, maybe. Lists and words and pictures. The weirdest magazine on Earth.

So, if not for my reader, I must write for me. That, therefore, is where this daunting feeling is coming from. I have to look inside. Isn’t it funny how confidence comes in glasses and crippling self-doubt comes in waves?

Where to start? I can’t really start at “Why can’t I write as well or as often as I want to?” since that’s a bit of a loaded and, let’s face it, silly question. We already know I write quite a lot, and quality is relative. My writing has improved tremendously in the last year, and continues to do so. So what do I want to write? Memoirs? Tutorials? Design guidelines? Stories? Detailed accounts of typefaces? All these things, and none of them.

Maybe I’m just being greedy. Perhaps I should find the thing I’m good at in writing and stick to it. But then, life would be very boring indeed if we all lived that way. If I’d lived that way, I may already have wound up as a session drummer or a does-well-enough-photographer. I think it’s important for us to remain in a state of discontent. That’s not to say that satisfaction is unproductive, but rather that in order to progress, we should be OK with being uncomfortable.

I’ve know far too many people who’ve spent the vast majority of their lives climbing a ladder they got on without really looking at the others. I’d rather be at the bottom of a ladder I want to be on than half way up one I don’t.

I feel very lucky to have found something I enjoy doing. I feel even luckier that I can choose that thing as a career, and luckier still that it pays well. Many people will never find that. But I won’t—and mustn’t—let this satisfaction stop me from peering around other corners. I won’t become the man I used to want to be.

That’s why I write. Because it’s something I have on the side. It’s frustrating and messy and often painful, but it’s something to keep me on my feet. Something to peer at and wonder about. Maybe if I did it more or at a higher standard, I wouldn’t enjoy it as much. So for now, at least, I think I’m content with the discontent it brings me.

So how do I write? In all honesty, I’m not very sure. I’ve tried everything I can think of to help coax words out of my stupid brain. I’ve tried writing more, writing less, writing often, writing rarely, planning writing, brainstorming, flash-carding, note-taking, coffee-drinking, and can honestly say that the only thing that seems to have consistently worked is to simply wait. Much like true love, the inspiration or words or whatever-you-want-to-call-it will find you. Someone wrote about this, and it kills me that I can’t remember. They said that it’s like looking for somebody in a store. If you’re both wandering around, looking for one another, it’s entirely possible that you will never find each other. If you stand still, though, then they’ll find you. It’s a pity all this waiting is so relentlessly dull.

I do wish I were more eloquent. Like one of those people who seem to have the most beautiful and profound things to say, all the time. The ones who capture everything so perfectly in their words. They’re infuriating. Neither in writing or speech will I ever be that perfectly spoken, I think to myself. I find myself in conversation with people, with beautifully formed sentences in my head, but when they tumble and spill out of my mouth like alphabet soup, they just sound silly and offhand. That’s sort of how I feel about my writing, too.

But then, I started this post thinking it would be a simple 400-word “Why Me”. Instead, it’s turned into a 1000-word and quite-well-written “Why Me”. If anything, it just goes to show that the best way to start is to just start. Climb up the ladder. Run around the store. Dance. That’s what it comes down to. I’m learning to write. This is my stupid brain in words. I just hope I haven’t exhausted it.