Much like Mr. Adam Kraemer mentioned he did before writing his IM piece for December 2009, I too spent some time looking back at this year before writing my column for the final month of 2009, running roughly 10 years after IM's founding, and written by IM's first non-original staff member, me. Realizing this, I looked not only at this year, but I got looking all the way back to the year 2000, when I first started writing here. I've had just short of 100 columns published, and countless more that never quite made it off the drawing board.
Writing is not easy, if done well. Sure, one might have some success by just slapping down some words and phrases in one stroke. They might effortlessly flow out so beautifully the first time that you will be lauded as some genius of prose. You might even get some book deal, and be interviewed on Oprah. I mean, it's damned unlikely, but possible.
But supposing that happens once, you are not likely to strike such written gold each and every time out. You don't often mean exactly what you say in writing the first time, not without proofreading, researching, refining, and the other arguably less pleasant parts of the writing process. You must, to some extent, suffer for your art. It's just the way it works.
Yes, I am telling you that the act of writing can suck. You look at what you've done and it seems trite, or dull, or stupid. Heck, I already tried to totally quit writing for IM once simply because the struggle was a bit much for me at the time, but I came back a little over a year later.
Had I stayed gone, that would have likely been it for my writing career. I'm not writing poetry and novels on the side over here. I could care less about book deals and Oprah. Those were never my goals, not that I would reject them if the same were offered. But, as my little IM bio states: "Walker writes for his own amusement, for the sake of opinion, to garner a couple of laughs, and to perhaps provoke a question or two, but otherwise, he doesn't think it'll amount to much." And that's true, since I wrote it.
But I still write here. And today I'm writing for one simple reason: to get you to write here, too.
Why you ask? I just told you that writing can suck. I'm telling you it's hard. I'm telling you you are unlikely to be "successful" at writing in the commercial sense. So what is this about, you may wonder?
Let me answer a few questions from the outset: First, I stand to make no financial gain from this request that you write here. Second, there are no brownie points for recruiting. Third, it's like pulling teeth to get me to read anything around here, so I'm not even promising that I'm going to be paying attention. Fourth, to repeat, it's unlikely you will make any money from writing here; not impossible, but I wouldn't say that the odds are in your favor.
So why am I advocating that you write for IM? The answer is simple: Write for yourself.
Ok, maybe that's not that simple. Let me explain another way. Two ways, actually.
(1) I'm the sort of guy who, rightfully or wrongfully, assumes that I'm at least as smart as anyone else. Of course, I have realized on occasion that I've come across someone who is more informed than I on a particular subject; but that doesn't make them smarter, it only makes them more able to make a rational decision on that given subject.
Taking this a step further, I get the feeling that most people I meet, rightfully or wrongfully, make the same assumption about themselves - that they are as smart as everyone else, too. Put more simply, I'm assuming that you consider yourself at least as smart as me, or anyone else here at IM; and frankly, that you consider yourself as smart as any person writing online, as smart as any elected official, and as smart as any newscaster. You're no dummy, right?
If you identify with this, then you have what it takes. If you think you are equally as smart as any other person, you are qualified to write your opinion.
Great! Now, why the should you?
(2) We all have a definition of ourselves. Part of that definition includes what you believe, what you do for a living, who you associate with, and other things. If you are a member of a particular religion, or political party, or a community group, this adds to your personal definition.
But there is no "dictionary definition" of you. Sure, you could read the The Secret Language of Birthdays and get an oddly interesting picture of yourself, but not a complete definition of yourself. And unless you commission a biographer, or otherwise conduct yourself in a fashion that will invite an unauthorized biography, no one will ever write out your definition of yourself... unless you do.
So why should you? Do you need personal definition? You might not think so. But believe me; until you've written out your beliefs and put them on display, open to commentary and critique, you may not really know what you think you know about yourself.
Here at IM, I've aired out my personal beliefs on subjects ranging from religion, politics, television, social science, adulthood, childhood, prostitution, drinking, drugs, obesity, David Hasselhoff, Kiefer Sutherland, Knut, and Tay Zonday. And on some of these issues, my beliefs have been challenged mightily.
Rarely (if ever, I can think of no example) have I released a piece, gotten a comment, and been like, "Oh yeah, you're right. I'm an idiot." No, it's rarely that way. Like turning the Titanic, changing your mind often takes time.
Over my years of writing at IM, I've had many beliefs challenged. I make a statement, and have it challenged. I think, and then re-assert my belief, and again have it challenged... and so-on and so-forth.
As I look back over the years, I can now see that it's only through this process that I have been able to attempt to get to the heart of my own beliefs. Only when my broad beliefs have been subjected to a sandblasting of scrutiny, whittling them down to their core, can I get a sense of what I truly believe. Only by having my beliefs and assumptions challenged have I been able to get closer to who exactly I am, and what I think the world should be like.
This personal discovery could not have occurred but for the experience of writing for IM. Cross-sections of the world have read, and given me feedback and criticism on my views of the world, and I have grown as a result. Sure, it all happened slowly, and with some pain perhaps. But the result is personally satisfying. And this personal growth and satisfaction is exactly why I keep coming back here to put my words and thoughts on display time after time. I've learned more about who I am from each of the readers who have challenged me. This is something I never expected would come from my writing, but which is the most wonderful outcome I could have imagined.
And now I invite you to join me, for you might never know exactly who you are until you hang your words out for everyone to see, and let them take their shots. Take something that means something to you, and write a piece on it. Take your thoughts on the latest news scandal, and write a piece on it. Take your beliefs on the world, and show them to the world. The sharing of these with your fellow earthlings may bring you closer to each of them, and closer to yourself.
Hope to see you soon.
A practicing attorney and semi-professional musician, Walker writes for his own amusement, for the sake of opinion, to garner a couple of laughs, and to perhaps provoke a question or two, but otherwise, he doesn't think it'll amount to much.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
12.18.09 @ 9:32a
I wish I had the time to write for IM, but I'm so busy writing to everybody in congress and half the cabinet two or three times a day that it's just not possible. I don't even get to read everything here sometimes for weeks after it's been written. And next year's an election year. I'll try, but don't count on it.
Love and kisses,
12.22.09 @ 11:45a
Writing is an indulgence. It's a release. It's a way to process and get down to our core beliefs as Jeffey's so aptly reminded us. When I write, I feel free.
As a high school English teacher in an urban school in Arizona, I have absolutely no idea what Washington, D.C. is like or the demanding schedules of those who work in/with Congress, but at some point, we must find the time to write, especially when it's something that defines so many of us. I, too, make my own excuses about not taking the time to write... for myself, for others, off-line, or on-line. Our thoughts need to be unleashed like the animals they can be. If we keep them cages (or stuff them like my sister, Lindsay), are we then considered self-destructive? I wonder.
I haven't written a column for IM yet because... well, honestly, I don't really have a good excuse. But, Jeffrey, you've convinced me it's time. And Sandra, I hope you indulge a little more before election season is upon us. Cheers...