Last year, I wrote 1 million words. I haven’t done the math yet, but I’m pretty confident at least 500,000 of those words have yet to be read by anyone but me.
2019 was one of my biggest years of growth as a writer in almost a decade. In writing as much as I did, I learned a lot about my voice, what I do and don’t enjoy writing about, and the kinds of stories I’ve spent many years acting too afraid to tell.
There are many people out there who are probably itching to tell me that those 500,000 unpublished words were a total waste of time. Why write something no one else is going to see?
Here’s what I have to say to those people.
Perfectionism will slow down and stop you. I know you know this. And I know you’re doing your best not to let your fear and uncertainty get the best of you. But sometimes even when we logically understand our thought processes aren’t rational, we can’t break free of them. We’re trapped in endless cycles of hoping we’re “good enough.”
There are many writers out there who have never finished writing something they were so excited to start because they immediately began scrutinizing every single sentence they wrote. Writing and rewriting the same paragraphs over and over again, just wanting it to be “perfect.”
That’s not teaching you anything … except maybe how not to write a story. You can’t figure out how to write as well as you want to if you don’t push through the hard parts and keep going.
The only way to learn how to write better is to write more, and often. No, you don’t have to write every day — please stop letting other writers tell you that writing every day is essential, because it isn’t. But you do have to write on some kind of schedule. You have to show up on a regular basis and do the work, or you’re never going to make the kind of progress you’ve always dreamed of.
The more you write, the better you’re going to get at writing — it’s through that process that you figure out your own personal style and how to tell captivating stories. This also means you’re going to write a lot of words that aren’t great. That’s OK. You don’t have to share them with anyone if you don’t want to.
However, continuing to write many words — even if they’re not all great collections of words — is what’s going to train you to improve your craft and get to a point where you can compose publishable words.
Writing is about more than money and recognition. Yes, to some extent we all want someone to tell us we’re doing a good job and hand us our paycheck without question. We want to be told we’re good at what we do. We want to be able to make a living doing what we love. There aren’t many writers out there who don’t want these things at least to some degree.
But these aren’t the only things writing is about. And if you only write because you want people to notice and pay you, you’re not going to make it very far. Why? Because it can take a long time to get to a point where people see and pay for your work, not to mention the gaps between paychecks and “no one is reading my work” periods that always come up even when you’ve been paid, praised, and published before.
Sometimes you just have to sit down and write because it matters to you. Maybe there’s a story you want to tell and you don’t care if anyone ever reads it. Maybe writing is how you deal with your emotions, and during tough times you need to rely on it to get through your darkest days.
I don’t know — maybe every now and then you just need to sit down and write because it reminds you that you’re alive and that you have something meaningful to offer this world.
You don’t always have to be “on.” Writing doesn’t always have to feel like a performance. Yes, you’re going to write plenty of things other people will see and judge and comment on. But not everything. Sometimes writing has to act as your safe space. Sometimes you need to say things that you keep to yourself but can’t keep inside your head. That’s OK. It’s normal. It’s healthy.
Writing is about more than just what other people see. There will be days when you know what you’re working on isn’t your best. It’s OK to keep writing anyway. You don’t know where it might lead. You can’t see all the wonderful places it might take you. And you never will if you just stop.
Keep going. Give yourself the freedom to express yourself. If you share it with someone else, that’s fine. If you don’t, there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, you might be much better off for it someday and you just don’t know it yet.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.