I’m sitting here at my desk, with a now slightly less blank page in front of me. After almost two years of Break the Twitch writing, it still plagues me every time I look at it. Even the most mangled piece of writing is less intimidating than the empty sheet. In that moment the possibilities are infinite, and that is scary. I thought that it would get easier over time, and it hasn’t–that’s not exactly what this piece is about, though.
After years of writing, first for a personal finance blog in 2007 and now for Break the Twitch, I can’t help but say it.
I am not a great writer.
Know that it is not out of self-deprecation that I suggest this. You may have come to this conclusion on your own already, in which case, I’m glad we’re on the same page. It is not out of a lack of positive affirmation, fake-it-til-you-make-it attitude in my life. I got that. I am an overall positive, the-secret-believing guy and feel incredibly blessed in so many ways.
When I started writing in a formalized educational setting, I found it incredibly frustrating to craft sentences and paragraphs that properly reflected my feelings towards what I wanted to say. Small inflections and emotions were completely lost on my attempt at a long-form written piece. It almost always fell flat.
It’s actually part of the reason I recently started a YouTube channel, because I felt that anyone that might read my articles would miss an entire element of what I was actually trying to say.
I’ve known this all along, but what has me in a strange conundrum is this:
The two most popular posts in Break the Twitch’s history are from the first three months of its existence.
After almost two years of writing, I’m pretty sure that should not be the case. I thought the idea here was to write a lot, consistently ‘improve’ my writing as time continued, and then success. I thought I’d get better at sharing ideas and thoughts, while giving you an inside perspective on my experience, all while crafting beautifully languaged(sp?) word art.
Perhaps I’ve gotten better at writing over the last two years or so, but what really ended up happening was that I started comparing my writing to other writers that I deeply respect.
What I came to view as great writing, was not what I had been doing, it was what they had been doing (and continue to do). While I don’t consider myself to be a competitive person, I have continually tried to fit my writing style into what I thought good writing was supposed to be.
It’s a strange moment to realize that trying to be a good writer has gotten in the way of writing well.
— Anthony Ongaro (@anthonyongaro) May 29, 2016
It says something that some of my most popular posts came from a time when I could not have cared less about writing well, instead just wanting to communicate ideas and tell stories. Back when I didn’t think anyone was actually reading them, I was the most free and perhaps, that’s what mattered most.
What is it they say about writ…Er, dancing like nobody’s watching? Oh yeah.
You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching,
Love like you’ll never be hurt,
Sing like there’s nobody listening,
And live like it’s heaven on earth.
William W. Purkey
That’s the thing, I want you on this journey with me. I want to write like somebody’s reading, but I want to write in a way that is still my speaking voice. I want to reach through this screen and hug your brain with my feelings, thoughts, learnings, and failures while really opening up in a way that should help all of us.
If we’re going to do this thing, I want to give you the real Anthony–not good writer Anthony, but just, writer Anthony. So I think that’s what this is now–a return to origins, perhaps, a more casual writing style, and just more direct access to what I believe is the real me.
So where do we go from here? Here’s what I’m thinking.
Authenticity is scary as hell, but it is the only way forward.
When we’re authentic, we’re putting ourselves on the line. I’m talking about that thick, questionable Brené Brown vulnerable authenticity. It’s real and it’s all of us for the world to see. Especially with our current Instagram-ready, #lovemylife world, it is only authenticity that can cut through the clutter.
Why is it scary? Because we have to face the fact that our true selves might not be enough to get the job done. That is a risk that I am (now) willing to take. I’ve been struggling to write recently, and I trying way too hard to write ‘well’ has been making it more difficult than it needs to be.
Expectation and competition can help, but it can be destructive, too.
It’s great to seek inspiration from those we admire, but we should never let it prevent us from sharing our own perspective in a way that makes sense. Everyone is different and that’s what makes us great. There are probably 10,000,000 people writing about how to live better, so why would I want to do it in the same way as any of them?
Realizing that I’m simply not an essayist may seem self-deprecating, but in fact it is incredibly freeing. It releases me from the boundaries of my own expectation. I encourage you to let go of what you might expect of yourself so you can simply be what you are–you may be surprised by the result.
I am far from perfect, and probably always will be.
Despite a strong start to the year, I haven’t been writing every day. I haven’t stayed true to my daily actions for the last two months despite leaving my full-time job and technically having more time than ever. Will I get back on the horse and keep going? Yes–just as I’d ask any of my friends or course students to do should they hit a rough patch. I’m learning to love failure and see it as a simple step in the journey of success.
So maybe we really should give it a shot, and by ‘we’ I mean you and me. What do we have to lose, really? A few years from now I may prove myself wrong, but maybe I don’t need to be a great writer. Perhaps I can just be a writer, and write like me, instead of writing like a great writer should write.
In fact, I’m going to leave that incredibly awkward penultimate sentence as a testament to my dedication to this future direction–thank you for hanging out with me.