Don’t write to appease someone else
I was recently asked, “what’s the definitive answer to the question that people ask you most frequently?” This prompt was supposed to be freeing and easy to write about, however, I found this question to be paralyzing.
Here is a timeline of my experience with this prompt:
8pm: I can’t come up with anything! I reassure myself that this is how the writing process always looks. It will come to me!
8:30pm: Absolutely nothing comes to me.
9pm: I say aloud “Holy shit. Either no one asks me questions or I have dementia…”
10pm: Conclude that I do not have dementia after some WebMD-crastination
11pm: Give up on writing and go to sleep
12am: Wake up in a cold sweat: “dear God I know what they ask me”, pick up my phone, and write down a list of questions that people have asked me at my hardware engineering job:
- How will my [INSERT PRODUCT] fail?
- How do they make that?
- What sample size do I need to test to prove this design is good?
- Does anyone actually ask you questions or is your ego constructing an artificial person in your mind and claiming they asked you this to protect you from feeling worthless?
8am: Wake up ready to crush one of these questions.
9am: Banging my head against my computer. “What’s wrong with you?” I mutter softly into the crisp morning air while the condensation sweats down my glass ever so slowly… [Sorry. Trying that thing that writers do where they vividly bring you into the scene with them. Clearly going a bit overboard for a non-fiction piece.]
10am: I am fundamentally uninspired to answer these questions and give up.
5pm: Talking with a writer and he says (paraphrased) “I feel a lot of pressure to write about the technical parts of my job, but sometimes I have no interest in doing that. I try to only write about what is currently interesting to me.”
5:01pm: Epiphany. I realize immediately that this was the case for me too. I pull up a word document and write in all caps: “WHY DID YOU BUY A PELOTON?”
I had my question. But I couldn’t start on it yet. I had to understand what just happened.
Trying to force “meaningful” profundity from my mind
From the moment the prompt was given to me, this Peloton question came to mind. But I blocked it out over and over again for hours. I kept saying to myself “that is stupid, no one would read some article about your silly, overly expensive bike. Go hate yourself for considering writing this article.”
Rather than taking this actually-frequently-asked-question that immediately came to mind, I begged my subconscious to come up with “a serious work question”. I felt guilty spending any time working on such a “dumb” topic.
But where was that guilt coming from?
WARNING: pseudo-scientific self-diagnosis coming in hot! (The Internet is full of unqualified people talking about human psychology, who am I to buck that trend?)
I think my guilt comes from two “invisible scripts” that I have picked up about writing:
1. You need to write about something related to your job or expertise
I feel a lot of internal pressure that says I need to write smart/ technical insights about my industry or something “academic” to showcase my intelligence to the world.
One problem though…I have NO DESIRE to write that right now.
But I sit here and yell at my mind “Be serious! We should talk about esoteric statistical concepts or physics!”
To which my mind responds back defiantly with a “what about that Peloton dohhhh”
2. You need to write about something meaningful and society chooses what meaningful is.
I was afraid of the optics of a white guy discussing his decision making process about his personal privilege present (PPP) in the context of everything going on in the world right now.
The Internet mob abstraction I have in my head screams:
“What about the thousands dying of COVID!”
“Don’t you dare distract us from the social progress we are making!”
Resolving my guilt
In case you find yourself suffering from a similar type of guilt, here was my “process”:
- I wrote this whole introduction out.
- I re-read it.
- I realized how absurd these scripts are and how they stem from a place of trying to impress people.
This lead to two insights that helped me overcome my guilt:
- Never in the history of ever has someone impressed another when they deliberately try to impress them.
- I don’t want to be the kind of person that writes things to appease the nameless, faceless Internet mob.
All I can do is write what is on my mind, not what I think should be on my mind.
So yea. I bought a Peloton!