Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

There are People who Don’t Like to Write?

I’ve been told that there are people who don’t like to write.

I know. It was a shock to me, too.

I don’t mean that feeling that writers get when they can’t focus, or when they dread sitting down at their desks and come up with all sorts of other tasks that need to be done right this second in order to put off the inevitable. Word avoidance isn’t what I mean.

No, I’m talking about people who actually don’t like writing. At all. Any form of it. The kinds of people who can just about summon up the energy to write “Happy birthday. Love Dad” on your annual card. Or the people who write one line emails like, “I made reservations for dinner next Saturday,” and then sign it with their initials.

I’m not talking about a 15-year old, either, for whom you might be able to blame the texting thing–Kids These Days don’t know how to write full sentences, we’re told.

No, this not-liking-to-write avoidance transcends adolescence. It affects businessmen trying to write memos, mothers emailing teachers, bloggers struggling to post …

The irony is that, in this computer-driven world of ours, writing is more important than ever, and yet more and more people are completely tongue-tied when faced with a blank page (digital or otherwise).

So … what do you do?

As a person who loves words, loves writing, and (while able to procrastinate with the best of them) can usually find something to write down, it’s hard to comprehend how other people can’t summon up three consecutive sentences. For example, I might mention to, oh, my father, that I “only got 500 words written today,” and he’ll look at me speechlessly and say he can’t imagine writing that much in a month. Or, I’ll casually refer to my novel and its 90,000 words and he’ll tell me that he’s never written that many words in his life. The mere thought of being able to do so astounds him.

Now, my father (and other afflicted souls) have plenty to say. You can sit down and have lively conversations with them where they spread good advice, brilliant ideas, and generally interesting factoids about all sorts of subjects. Yet, when you say, “That’s great. You should write it down,” fear sets in.

I know, I know. Many people don’t like to read, so their familiarity with sentence structure may be weak. They not be facile with words because they’re mere nodding acquaintances. But then there are the people (like my father) who take weekly trips to the library to check out new books to read … and yet the idea of writing more than a sentence or two makes him dig in his heels and say, “I can’t!”

My question to you is … why? What makes this happen?

Next time … tips for these poor, lost individuals.

6 Comments on “There are People who Don’t Like to Write?”

  1. Why indeed? I’d never thought about it much before, but this has been something like my experience, too. People are often astounded when I write that 500 or so words (or novel) and am not satisfied or am about to get back to it. I’ve had lots of people say “I wish I could” or “I could never…[insert whatever I've just written].” To that I often wonder “why can’t you?”

    One of the reasons why I like writing my words is that I have a chance to edit them. But could that perhaps be part of the problem? With the opportunity for editing comes the expectation of it. In face to face speech (or phone texting), many do not pre-edit, but there is a better chance to further explain and clarify ideas as needed in the moment. Maybe?

  2. I don’t know. When I speak to my father, it’s not the idea of editing that intimidates him. It’s the idea of being able to come up with THAT much to say. I remember lots of kids in school, too, who freaked when we got assignments like, “Write 100 words on ___.” It wasn’t that they couldn’t think of anything to say, but that the idea of putting it on paper that was intimidating.

  3. I’ve heard that from people, too. I don’t know. I remember thinking 100, 200, 500 words was a lot…until I saw it on paper. Certainly, starting was the hardest part, but once I got going it wasn’t as intimidating because an average sentence was ten words or more. It didn’t take long to reach (or surpass) the wordcount.

    Often when I tell people how long something I’ve written is, they’ll ask, “How many pages is that?” But I don’t always translate back to pages well (because I would tend to think in manuscript page style, but when it’s published…it’s not a constant since it depends on the size of the page and font). So I think in wordcount, but many people think in number of pages. Maybe there’s a translation barrier and the number of pages is what’s intimidating moreso than the wordcount? “Six” always equals “half a dozen,” but one phrasing can still sound larger than the other.

    This is a really fun question. It befuddles me, but now I want to know.

  4. I know, I wish I knew!

    I do remember one of my first ever writing assignments in school (like, 3rd grade), having to write 50 words on something or other and actually going back and counting because I had no conception of how much writing that WAS. (And the teacher explained counting one or two lines and then using that to figure out the average–which was pretty advanced mathematical thinking for 10-year olds. At that age, math isn’t something you use!) But since then? It’s rare that I struggle to meet minimum word counts–though I’m not saying it never happens.

  5. :o )
    Once, when I was eleven or twelve, my mom wanted me to write a short story or journal type entry for an assignment (I was homeschooled). The very idea was the most impossible thing I could imagine. Three paragraphs! I couldn’t ever write that much.

    But I ended up asking if it could be longer than three paragraphs (to which my mom said, “Of course.”) and I wrote perhaps three small-font pages of a Christmas story (it was December and I couldn’t think of anything else to write about). I had no antagonist, but it was a decent little plot searching for the missing pieces of the manger scene, and I had great fun inventing my own theory of how Santa Claus got down the chimney.

    Maybe writing just creates a knee jerk reaction of fear? If you haven’t yet proven that you can do it, maybe it’s not possible. I still struggle to meet a wordcount in a certain time frame, but I now know that I can do it once, twice, and again. But I did start with that dreaded doubt of “I can’t write that much.”

  6. I actually think it’s completely reasonable that writing can be intimidating before you’ve done it. Children, for example. People starting blogs and staring down empty computer windows. But as you practice …

    Yep. It just goes to show. The more you write, the easier it becomes!