Last week, I spent fourteen hours on a five-page English paper on a book portraying post-colonial Nigeria. From 8 p.m. to 10 a.m. the following the morning, I trudged through my first ever all-nighter as I racked my brain searching the book for hidden metaphors and stylistic devices with hidden double meanings. It was torturous. I didn’t know how I wanted to start the essay; I didn’t know what tone I wanted to take on; I didn’t even know what I wanted to say. So, as 4 a.m. rolled around, the question naturally crossed my mind: Why the hell do I do this to myself?
It’s not just for my English class (which, as an Environmental Studies major, I’m taking completely voluntarily). I write weekly articles and regular journal entries, and I want to go to graduate school for journalism. This thing – this torturous, mind-numbing, soul-crushing, anxiety producing thing is something I want to do as a profession.
Let me explain, since I think a lot of people would suggest that I shouldn’t do something that gives me so much anxiety. But what if this is a necessary anxiety? The type of anxiety that gets me off my ass, gets my gears turning, and gets me to think about things in ways I never have before. While thinking of an essay topic, for instance, I cleaned my room, did my dishes, called my mom, did my laundry, thought hard about colonialism and the role I play in it, got anxiety, sat with my anxiety, internalized my anxiety, and finally started writing the goddamn paper. Once I thought of the topic and the approach I wanted to take, boom – the paper seemed to write itself. I realized that it’s the time leading up to the actual writing that truly matters.
And that’s what writing is for me, and why I hate to love it so much – a mechanism that forces me to think.
When I sit down to write something, whether it’s an English essay analyzing the implications of post-colonial Nigeria or a humorous essay about burrito-eating, I’m forced to sit alone with nothing but my thoughts for an uncomfortable amount of time. There’s no escaping them, because all I have as a resource is myself, my experiences, and my interpretation of these experiences. It can be pretty scary. But it forces me to reflect, and it forces self-discovery. I really have no choice but to think, something we don’t give ourselves much time for.
So I urge you, even if you consider yourself the worst writer in the world, sit down and try to put any combination of letters and words on a piece of paper. I promise, you’ll learn something new about yourself every time.