Write For Yourself First

“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”

Stephen King,
On Writing

 

In an interview with journalist Paul Zollo, the songwriter and Nobel laureate Bob Dylan shared that songwriting has always been confessional for him, rather than professional. 

Despite having created an exhaustive body of world-changing work, he has never seen songwriting as an occupation to attend to every day. Rather, songwriting has merely been a vehicle for his personal ruminations which he can’t help but express.

This interview reminded me of why writing has always been hugely therapeutic for me. Among other reasons, it takes me to that happy place in my mind where I’m able to wildly be myself and explore and tinker with endless possibilities.

It’s like opening the wardrobe and stepping into the world of Narnia — okay, maybe I’m exaggerating here, but you know what I mean. It’s that beautiful feeling where you’re deeply immersed in work that you love, that hours pass by almost without you realizing. In that moment, you feel truly alive. 

If you feel like you’ve lost touch with this aspect of your writing, remember that it should be fun. 

One way to retain that sense of fun and freedom in your writing is to write for yourself first. The first draft is for yourself and no one else. 

In his book “On Writing”, Stephen King shares a great piece of advice, which is to “write with the door closed and rewrite with the door open.”

When you’re writing your first draft, you’re free to go wild with your ideas. And when you’re rewriting and editing, this is the time to “kill your darlings”, as Stephen King would say. This is when you must be ruthlessly self-critical about your work, and consider everything from your reader’s perspective to see if it still makes sense.

This could mean taking out details that are too personal, or out of context. As Stephen King wrote, “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”

By doing this, you’re balancing imagination with realism, and creativity with objectivity. With that, your work will not only be original, but will also resonate deeply with your audience. 

If your work is on either end of the balance, it would only end up being unrelatable. If you’re too enmeshed in your ideas and your own world, your work would have little meaning for your audience. Yet if you’re too concerned with your audience’s point of view, your work would be too dry and predictable.

 

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The not-so-romantic part of writing: notetaking. It takes forever to do, but it’s the best way I’ve been able to write. Doing it every day has taught me the value of consistency too.

 

For me, I believe that my writing has to move me before it can move others. In the different things I’ve written, such as academic papers, commissioned articles for companies, or articles for this blog that you’re currently reading — I’ve always tried to revisit the visceral “aha” moments that I had personally experienced in my research — which in many cases can be traced back to information that are either really interesting or really useful. 

I’d like to think that the things I do on an ongoing basis — whether that means reading, taking notes, or writing — are done for myself first.

I read books on subjects that I’d personally like to know more about. I highlight passages that I personally find thought-provoking and practical, and I later record them in a bunch of notecards. 

When it comes to writing articles, they are like Tom Petty songs in a way, because oftentimes they are first written as conversations with myself. They could be my attempt at consoling myself over whatever I may be struggling with, or a medium for me to make sense of whatever I’ve been thinking about. 

Throughout random moments of the day, I would suddenly recall quotes, anecdotes or concepts related to what I’m thinking about at the moment, and I’d remember, “Oh, I’ve written that down in my commonplace notes!”

Ideas would just keep coming and I couldn’t help but mentally structure all these information into one coherent outline. Every time, I’d feel that need to write, like I need to turn this into an article, or it will keep tugging at me.

That’s how writing has always been for me. On the outset, it probably seems like a pretty boring thing to do, but nothing has brought me more joy. 

So as you approach your blank page today, just remember to have fun. Don’t worry if it makes much sense or if it’s good enough — there will be time for that later. 

2 Comments

  1. Great post, fellow writer! Can’t help but assume you’re Malaysian based on your name. Are you? Because if so, then it’s great to see a fellow countryman here on WordPress, and in the same field too!

    Like

    1. Izzat Zailan says:

      Thanks Stuart! Yes, I’m Malaysian! (:

      Liked by 1 person

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