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Writing & Working

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Bad writing is the universal initiation ritual for good writing.

I had a friend in college who joined a fraternity. It was a lifelong dream for him. His father and grandfather were both members of the organization and he wanted to keep the legacy alive. When his time came to join, he had to go through a hazing process. To all of us outsiders, he looked like a fool. When the process was over, however, he got to be one of the cool kids. We felt sorry for him during his hazing, but he never complained. He understood the game: if you want to create good results, you might have to endure some bad appearances.

That’s what writing is like. It’s like joining an alliance where you get to be part of a great brotherhood or sisterhood of people who’ve chosen to use their voices to make a difference. If Edward Bulwer-Lytton was right when he said “The pen is mightier than the sword”, then being a writer makes you a member of the ultimate fraternity. The only catch is that you have to expose yourself as a mediocre writer first. Your version of hazing is that you have to give up your hiding. You can no longer use “I’ll get started once I’m really good at it” as an excuse.

If you’d like to join this fraternity, the question is not “Are you good enough?” The question is “Are you willing to look bad enough?”

If you’re not interested in writing, then just substitute “work” for every instance of “writing” and read the post again from the beginning. Good work, just like good writing, starts at the same place: somewhere less flattering than the fantasies that made you dream of being great in the first place.

To get to “I know what I’m doing”, you have to take action when you feel “I’m not worthy of what I’m doing” and you have to keep pressing forward even when the world is thinking “I feel so sorry for how poorly you’re doing.”

That’s the only road to greatness that has ever existed.

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. And…strangely, it seems to be a “rinse and repeat” exercise. It seems that many times when we write the result feels as if it’s going to be a bit, well, crappy. And yet the more this is the author’s opinion, as or more often, someone reading feels enthused enough to….enthuse about it! Thanks for a good missive T.K. Best, Roger.

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