Writing for Non-Writers: or How to Free-Write Free Will

Regan Farnsworth, BFR Staff

There is a common misconception that a writer is a particular sort of person. That being a writer is something you’re born into, that someone either can write or can’t. There also is a second common misconception:  the idea that people have to want to read what you write for it to be “good.”

Given these misconceptions, only the published can stand out as “writers,” and even then only the commercially successful published are held as objects worthy of imitation.

But let’s not even complicate the matter of writing with questions of commercial success and whether one must win some sort of lottery at birth to have the “right stuff” to write what people want to read.

No. Instead, let’s look for a moment at personal writing. Writing for you, or maybe a close friend or two. This isn’t exactly the kind of writing that happens all that often – or, rather, you don’t hear about it happening all that often—because that’s precisely the nature of it. And the thing about this kind of writing is it doesn’t have to be “good” the way best-sellers or literary classics are “good.” All it has to be is yours. And as someone who exists, I understand there’s more corn in that sentence than in the global agriculture industry, so allow me to provide an actual example of this type of writing:

As a cripplingly analytical individual obsessed with the metaphysical, I found myself in the midst of an existential crisis based on the possibility of free will. Without going into details, the crux of the issue was that there can of course be no absolute resolution. There is no answer, yet I was desperate for one. Thus, the need for this one piece of fiction: a setting in which there must be a resolution regardless of my inability to know one. That is, in writing I could create the necessary circumstances to better understand myself.

Let’s be clear: this was probably the worst story I ever wrote in my life—and that includes those ones I wrote in second grade. It was a couple pages, done in an hour, and truthfully was such garbage even flies couldn’t stand it. But that’s not important, because neither you nor anyone else is ever going to read it. All it did was what it had to do: it resolved my cognitive dissonance.

Obviously there are more uses for writing than settling the inner turmoil brought about by an excessive need for agency; all this example set out to prove is it didn’t matter if it was good, or made sense, or had a solid plot or possessed meaningful character development or even had proper spelling. Sometimes writing is its own reward.

All I hope to express is that you don’t need to be a writer to write. If you’re an avid reader—and surely you are if you’re reading a column on a fiction magazine’s blog—there’s something you get from a story. Sometimes you can get it from your own story, too, even if you—like me—would sooner set it on fire than on a shelf.

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