The title of the initial blog post on my website with virtually no readership IS a reference to Stephen King’s memoir on the craft of writing.
But the guy is a ridiculously prolific writer, and whatever your opinion may be about the number (or quality) of awkwardly written sex scenes in King’s prose: 64 novels, more than 200 short stories, and five books of nonfiction is an insane volume of output. That sort of dedication to writing is impressive.
Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over.
– Stephen King
I’ve been writing for my entire career in some capacity. These days, it usually takes the form of software documentation or tutorials or UI microcopy. In the past, my writing was more persuasive. I was trying to cause a Pavlovian response that would make people think they need to buy a $25 bag of coffee. When my career was embryonic, my writing was academic and focused on trying to convince illiterate 8th graders that they should care about the lives and writing of dead white men. Despite all this, I’ve neglected opportunities to write for fun and for its own sake, especially as I’ve reached middle age.
In my youth, I was a prolific writer, with my output only surpassed by my voracious appetite for reading. I wrote books for the kindergarteners at my elementary school. I wrote comic books about anthropomorphic cows in the US military. I wrote movie scripts for amateur war and avant garde films and likened myself to Woody Allen and William Goldman. I would pore over maps and draw inspiration from the front matter of the boxes of Nintendo games to create my own worlds and the cast of characters who would inhabit them.
My introduction to blogging and writing for the web occurred in 2001. We had collectively survived Y2K, my first experience with existential dread and anxiety of my impending doom. I lost my innocence and I found the internet. Up to that point, the family computer had always been in my parents’ bedroom. In retrospect, this was likely an early attempt to monitor computer usage and shield me from pornography and places like Usenet or The WELL where ordinary people congregated to write poorly about technology and news and sex (maybe they learned from Stephen King?). The web still felt new and exciting and anyone could have their own website. It felt smaller, like we were living this shared experience and we wanted other folks to know our thoughts and misgivings and apprehensions. We had not yet experienced the sort of public shame or the derision and mockery that can accompany vulnerability on the web in 2022.
Anyway, in 2001, my parents moved the family computer to a common area of the house and now that I was in middle school, I had more opportunities to use it and to learn about the web. We had been using computers in school for five or six years at this point, and had reached the stage where home computers were common enough that teachers expected us to write papers and to have gained some modicum of computer literacy. Before this, the family computer had been used exclusively as a word processor for my mom’s work or for me to wade through all the information on the Encarta Encyclopedia software that came with the machine.
All that changed in 2001. I became a 90wpm typist while chatting with girls (and probably a lot of grown men) on AOL Instant Messenger. The AOL chatrooms weren’t all bad: they eventually led me to Xanga, where I started my first weblog. It quickly became a safe (albeit public) space for me to work through a lot of teenage heartache and reckoning with religion and philosophy. Xanga taught me a lot about HTML and CSS as I learned how to style my blog, and by extension, how the web was really structured. For a few years, I became a prolific writer. It was as second nature as breathing. Sure, all of the writing was about failed relationships, emo bands, and adolescent angst, but it was wonderful. I could force people to read neon green text on a black background while an embedded mp3 of Senses Fail blared through their desktop speakers. Like a lot of early social media and weblog platforms, Xanga was inevitably laid waste by the popularity of Facebook. For an awkward teenager who desperately wanted to be liked by his peers, writing about my thoughts and feelings on Xanga never stood a chance against the immediate gratification of having someone “like” a short blurb that I posted as a Facebook status. High school got in the way. I fell out of love with blogging, and I haven’t really thought about it seriously in more than a decade.
I’ve been thinking a lot about legacy. Those old Xanga servers are dead. All of that writing is lost in the ether. I have hard drives where some, mostly academic, writing has been preserved, but apart from me knowing that I wrote those things, they’re lost to history.
Two things have happened over the past three weeks that have made me reconsider public writing, and I’d like to take a moment to talk about them in case they may also serve as inspiration for someone who comes across this post.
One of my childhood friends died a few weeks ago. He was 34 years old. He was the most popular kid in my middle and high school. He had been the homecoming king. He played a handful of varsity sports. He dated the prettiest girl in school. He was well-liked by everyone and is featured prominently on the Superlatives page in the yearbook. He’s dead now, though, and hearing of his passing unsettled me tremendously. It isn’t that I never think about my own mortality or my place in the universe, in fact, it’s something I think about on a regular basis, but something about the way that it happened to this specific person has led me to reconsider my tendency to introversion. I have struggled with imposter syndrome and the belief that my opinions or thoughts don’t hold much value when considered against the work or thoughts of more brilliant or successful people.
But I’m going to die eventually, and now I’m thinking that I’d rather not leave some of these things unsaid.
The second recent event I’d like to make note of here is that one of my friends recently released his first pop album. This would be a cool accomplishment on its own, but it’s significantly more interesting given its proper context. He is from Alabama. He grew up in a very conservative family and attended university specifically for music ministry. Following the death of his sister to a drug overdose, he decided to leave church music and to pursue his dream of writing and playing music in Nashville. The album release coincided with his decision to publicly come out as gay, something that he had been bottling up for many years. It was upsetting to many of the evangelical conservatives who made up a lot of his personal and professional network. Things were messy. Importantly, he seems happier than he has ever been. His posture, figuratively and literally, has changed as a direct result of his decision to get this off his back and to be honest with himself.
Life is short.
The juxtaposition of these two men and their stories has led to a reckoning in my own life. I’ve spent a long time denying myself the truth that one of the things I enjoy most is writing. Sometimes, I think that I don’t have anything worthwhile to say. If an audience for a piece of writing doesn’t exist, is it even a valuable endeavor? Writing for businesses can lead to the belief that the business outcomes and the users’ needs are the only two pieces of the equation that matter. Sometimes, I think I risk convincing myself that all writing should be viewed through this same smudged lens.
I’ve been too quick to quote Jack Kerouac and think that “one day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” The problem is that good writing isn’t simple for most of us. It’s a craft that must be honed, and there are going to be plenty of instances of poor writing. Even the most prolific and successful authors have to practice.
So here’s to dedicating more time to writing in my free time. I want to practice different forms in the same manner that I’ve sought new knowledge about software documentation, content strategy, or UX writing and research. My hope is that this blog will allow me to learn in the open, both about my day job, and in my free time as an aspiring novelist.
After all, writing and making it public is the closest I’ll ever get to immortality. What will happen to the stories in me when I am no longer here?