We all get stuck in our ways. And over time we all learn the peculiarities of how our brains function. Relatively early in my writing career I realized that I write in a way that is different from how most people do it. I don’t actually write. Not precisely. What I do is speak in my head and basically transcribe the sounds. This sometimes leaves funny artifacts in my writing. Like many who write fast and online I have no shortage of missing words or typos, “theirs” that should be “theres” and vice versa. But that’s not what I mean. Sometimes I will actually include words which sound vaguely similar to the intended word but are not homonyms and are totally different words. They just create a similar set of sounds if you run them together in a spoken sentence. Read English sentences they can read like gibberish. but if you speak them quickly aloud the meaning will often be clear.
People will sometimes point out that I’m clearly using transcription software that is screwing up. But in fact I’ve never used transcription software in my life. My brain is just wired in this particular way. There actually is transcribing. But I’m the one doing it.
I mention this because over the weekend I’ve been writing an opinion piece for another publication. This is something I very, very rarely do. TPM liberated me from this necessity almost twenty years ago. But today when I do it it’s always a challenge. I’m used to this writing. It’s a context in which I assume you know the basic stories we’re focused on, have a sense of my writing style and the sometimes circuitous way I approach topics. If I meander a bit in idiosyncratic directions you’ll follow. That’s part of the magic of this gig for me. I have a tacit agreement with a community of readers that I’ll write in a certain, conversational way. That permission gives my writing a great speed and fluidity.
I only notice the difference when I write for a different audience or context. Suddenly I’m questioning each sentence, pondering whether this clause logically connects to that one. This is the kind of stuff I think about when I’m editing things I write but not when I’m writing. It’s sort of like that thing where you can run up a flight of stairs a hundred times without a problem. But if you start thinking about where each step is and the process of dashing up the stairs suddenly you’re falling on your face right and left.
Another thing I learned, begrudgingly, early on is that as a writer I’m a sprinter, something that had a big effect on my writing career early on. I can write a thousand or fifteen hundred words in a stream of thought. But if i push beyond two or three thousand words it starts to break down. There’s a different set of skills tied to pacing and organization that I hadn’t developed as much. Those didn’t come as easily.
Originally when I got into doing this I thought I was going to be a longform magazine writer. But that was a challenge. The pacing and organization didn’t come easy.
I share all this because there’s an important balance in life between knowing your strengths and limitations but also challenging them. I’ve been experimenting with some much longer writing recently. It doesn’t come easy. Or at least I have to approach it in a particular way. But without challenge there’s no growth, no new thing.