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Experiences

“I Write Because I Can”: Coping with Writing a Terrible Article

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Edited by: Lasya Adiraj

I love words. I’ve loved them since 2009. I remember the exact year because that’s when I read my first “real” book — Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Only books that were at least 200 pages long were bestowed with the esteemed title of “real” in those fondly remembered years; a true shame to Enid Blyton’s short story collections that did not produce the ooh’s and aah’s of reading three novels in the span of a week. I was enraptured by the story and the characters, of course, but more so by how innumerable combinations of the 26 letters in the English alphabet could evoke such intense emotions of joy, sorrow, anger, and dejection. It seemed natural then to start writing because words were lovely and stringing them together made them lovelier. 

When I started writing articles, I found myself troubled by the common challenges haunting other writers: imposter syndrome (Can I even call myself a writer? How could I possibly even imply that I’m a writer simply because I write?), the tricky introduction (Hey Google, how do I write an introduction- AAARGH), procrastination (I can write anything, including a 1500 word research paper on some ancient theory I detest but not what I have to write right now, an 800-word article on a topic I’m actually interested in), overwriting (yes, I’m conscious of the fact that this sentence alone is over a 100 words — oh, the irony), and writer’s block (which I’ve actually written about; shameless advertising!). These were problems I knew I’d face so I wasn’t surprised. Honestly, if you typed “Challenges Writers Face” on Google — let me save you the trouble of checking — you can get exactly 75,400,000 results in 0.40 seconds. You even get tips on how to overcome them. But I don’t think anyone or anything really prepares you for the inevitability of writing a terrible article and the disappointment that comes with it. 

It’s like this: You’re so passionate about an idea (which usually is the case when you get to pick your own ideas for articles notwithstanding exigent circumstances) that you’ve got goosebumps but what spills over the paper (or the Google doc, in this case) can only be described as a waste of ink or battery based on your medium, space, and time. It’s your child; you birthed these words made of sharp and squiggly letters, lovingly strung them together to create something more than life that would rise above the grave of your first draft. But gravity isn’t your friend today; it pulls your words back down and buries them in a box called “Things That Just Didn’t Work Out”. No one can make sense of your article and what it’s trying to say. At some point, even you lose sight of the intent behind writing this piece. The final blow: your editor doesn’t know what to say about your piece either, except to make a couple of spelling and grammar edits. That’s when you know you’ve really hit rock-bottom (Well, with editors, it’s either that or your piece was so good, your editor was mind-blown, like, they actually felt things and you rendered them speechless but hey, don’t interfere with my sad pessimism parade). 

So, you’ve written a terrible article. What now?

Honestly? I don’t have the answer. I could say things like take a walk! or distract yourself with your favourite hobby! or spend time with your family and/or friends! but I’d be lying if I said they were anything but short-term reprieves. Sure, they’ll work for a while. I can’t say the same for the long run because that terrible article has not disappeared. It’s still out there even when you pretend it’s not. You’ll have to deal with it eventually. But the thing about coping is that it doesn’t always look glamorous. It’s work and effort and time which are all of the same things I spent on my terrible article in the first place. What’s to say all that work will pay off in the right direction this time? So, I did nothing. When you do nothing, there’s arguably a lot of mental space for you to think and feel. I’d definitely suggest allowing yourself to feel everything you’re feeling — the sadness, the disappointment, and the grief for what could have been. Eventually, all those emotions may help you get to a point where you can reframe your defeated question into something hopeful: What’s to say all that work won’t pay off in the right direction this time?

So, you’ll grit your teeth and attend your next ideation meeting. You’ll think of another topic you’re interested in, if not passionate about, and you’ll write. That’s what I did (do). It’s really more about discipline than motivation even when it’s about doing something you love. It’s about consistency; it’s about writing and showing up, again and again and again. It’s the Notes app on your phone, full of legible and illegible tirades. It’s the journals in your drawer, its pages scrawled on in black ink and grey graphite. It’s the handkerchief at your local cafe, home to a poem no one will ever see. It’s the loose sheet on the table that you pass by while on a call, writing one word then another then another then another until you’ve created a connectome of words.

When I was younger, there didn’t seem to be motivation or discipline when it came to writing; I wrote because I could. I may be a better writer now, if only in experience, but I’ve lost the blatant, unconscious confidence of that young Harry Potter fan, enthralled by writing, who wrote words, sentences, paragraphs to laugh and cry and feel — and sometimes, to no purpose but to write — and not to beautify or glorify or perfect. Indeed, it is a mad chase for perfection now: to write the best article, to write the most meaningful and outstanding lines with intricate metaphors no one really gets but makes you look smart, to use words that sound pretty like exquisite and magnificent and alluring when all I truly want to write is “[it was] beautiful”. If only I were a child. 

And there’s the answer. How strange to start writing an article not knowing the answer you want so desperately and to end it with the answer at your fingertips. Allow me another trial:

So, you’ve written a terrible article. What now?

You write. 

You write because you can.

Rhea Thomson

Ashoka '21

That one person who just made the cut. Also an aspiring psychologist.