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Learning to write again

| Thursday, October 13, 2016

I’m a terrible writer.

I don’t think I’ve managed to write an essay within the past few years that hasn’t been sent in at the absolute last minute.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that my process is all over the place. I tend to set the goal for myself of getting a page done an hour which should, by all accounts, be a reasonable task. But somehow I can only manage to get a solid 50 words in before I feel too overwhelmed or burnt out to keep going.

I reward myself too quickly when I’m doing well and procrastinate too much when I’m not. So far this semester, I’ve managed to watch seven seasons of “The Office,” discover every subreddit imaginable, spend an embarrassing amount of flex points on Smashburger and waste an entire weekend wandering around in Chicago because it’ll “help my creative process.” As much as I had hoped burgers and television shows would help, surprisingly, none of that has pushed me become a faster writer.

My writing usually ends up taking so long that I reach the point where I’m sitting there at the deadline, writing my professor an email saying I’ve finished the assignment without a word document attached, hoping that they’ll take a bit of time to get back to me about the missing assignment so I can send it in without any penalty. Of course, the last time I tried to do this, Gmail kindly reminded me that I had “accidentally” forgotten to attach the email.

Gmail’s oh-so-friendly reminder that I’m so incompetent got me thinking. How did I reach this point? Why am I always late with these assignments? This shouldn’t be too hard. Unfortunately, writing an essay or an article or even a Facebook post has become such an insurmountable task that at times I can’t even get started. There’s a certain anxiety to writing that I haven’t found in other assignments. I can do math problems or build a presentation without any issues. So why can’t I write?

I think my problems with writing are symptomatic of a larger issue. First of all, I’m putting too much pressure on myself to get everything right the first time. I’m also overwhelmed, in part, because the act of writing is something very personal in a way that a math problem simply isn’t. I’m insecure about my writing, afraid of failure and disappointment.

Together, I think this means that my anxiety about writing stems from the fact that I’m taking it way too seriously. It doesn’t have to be this way. Writing can, and should, be a fun assignment. And now, I’m trying to find the fun in the assignment again, rather than trying to hit a home run on my first swing. I know once I get something written on the page, I’m in a lot better position than I was just staring at the Word document. I also know that failure is part of the writing process. Every mistake I learn from makes me a better writer. I’ve known all of this for a long time, but I think I’ve been too afraid to start and put myself out there.

So maybe I’m not a terrible writer, just a writer who’s learning how to start again.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Jimmy Kemper

Scene writer, Economics major, and Seinfeld enthusiast

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