When You Lose Your Ability to Write, Continue Writing

But this time, give yourself permission to write badly.

Photo by Steven Lasry on Unsplash

Everything is content nowadays. Literally everything, even your insecurities, misfortunes, and traumas. There’s a reason for that.

Turning your insecurities into content implies vulnerability, which apparently is one of the best traits you can have as a writer. By being vulnerable, it becomes easier for readers to see you as a human being, and therefore resonate with your work.

But there’s a catch: Vulnerable writing is a delicate art.

Some people have mastered that art and became successful writers. And thus, their calling their insecurities “content” is now justified. Others are not so lucky and got labeled as drama queens or attention whores instead.

Honestly, that latter prospect scares me. Perhaps that’s why, as a writer, I’m still not able to fully embrace my vulnerability. The internet can be a cruel place, and I’m afraid of showing my wounds, lest some trolls aggravate them.

However, I’m currently rethinking that stance.

In fact, I’ll start here by sharing my most recent predicament:

I, albeit briefly, lost my ability to write.

An Unprecedented Disaster

For a while now, I’ve never missed a single day of writing. Not one.

Every morning, I get out of bed, turn on my laptop, and brew a cup of coffee. Then I sat down and let my thoughts pour onto the white pages. Before I eat breakfast, take a shower, get some exercise, or anything else; I start my day with writing. It’s a habit I cherish very much.

With this carefully-built habit, I can publish articles consistently, without fail. After all, if you tenaciously put your words out, it’s bound to form a sentence, then a paragraph, then a whole story.

If you keep writing, you’ll make something worth reading. Sometimes later rather than sooner, but it’s only a matter of time.

For me, that time is usually 2–3 days. But now it’s been over two weeks and I haven’t been able to write anything resembling a coherent narrative. This is the longest I’ve been without publishing anything worth reading. My thoughts are all over the place. They don’t correlate with each other, don’t sound eloquent, and simply don’t make sense. So I just left them in the draft pile.

I don’t know what my problem is, but it scares me.

If you’re thinking, “Chill out mate, it’s only been two weeks,” try telling that to a girl with a late period. I’m a boy, but I can imagine how a short span of time can be so significant, depending on who you ask. Try other examples: One millisecond could be everything for an Olympic runner, yet one year could be fleeting for a startup founder. It’s all relative.

I don’t want to lose momentum, so I persisted with my daily writing habit. But it’s painful to go at something day in, day out, and not see any results from it when you usually do. Now I’m starting to doubt if I can keep this up.

Some writers (successful ones, at that) would say that I’m being a sissy. That I give up too soon. That my resolve as a writer is not strong enough — not as strong as theirs, that is. That I should be more like them.

And they might be right. But I still don’t like it.

A Pretentious Community of Writers

Positivity, when expressed in the wrong time or manner, becomes negativity. That’s exactly how I feel these days, with the community of writers I follow on social media. Do you know those MLM seminars where they blame the sellers' lack of success on their “not working hard enough”? Picture that in the context of online writing.

Four weeks ago, I started going to uni again after a year of online study. While that’s definitely a good thing and I’m happy about it, all the readings and assignments I have to do adds a lot of burden onto my shoulders. I’m not blaming them for my recent bad luck with writing, but they’re real.

These are actual responsibilities that I need to take care of, and they certainly, however slight, affect my writing performance. While my commitment to writing is still unwavering, I do have to manage my time and energy more carefully — and believe me, I’m trying. Yet I’m barely hanging on.

Guess what all those successful writers keep saying to me?

“Oh, you’re a student? I’m an engineer with three part-time jobs and two children to take care of, but I still manage to publish amazing articles every day.”

Okay, I’m exaggerating, but you get my point. There’s a lot of variation to it, but basically, they all say, “I’m so busy but I can still write!” — sometimes you’ll even get a bonus of, “You just have to work harder! If you can’t, maybe you don’t actually love writing that much.”

Oh my God. How dare they say I don’t love writing? It’s my favorite thing in the world! Otherwise, I wouldn’t even be here, wouldn’t I?

I get their intention is to motivate but, really? Those kinds of advice are shortsighted and unnecessarily prescriptive. Would you listen to someone who’s trying to solve your problem strictly through their eyes and don’t try to understand yours? Yeah, me neither.

Okay, now I’m just ranting. My bad. I don’t mean to waste your time. There’s a lesson for you here, I promise.

In fact, let’s get to that lesson right now.

Give Yourself Permission to Write Badly

If you’ve been following me for a while (thanks for that!), then you know this isn’t how my writing is usually like.

My main writing themes are “serious” stuff like Philosophy, Psychology, and Urbanism. And I pride myself on having read a lot on those subjects and being able to draw upon them as references for my writing. My goal is to present you with a well-formed perspective on meaningful topics, so I always try my best to provide a solid theoretical framework in each of my pieces.

Honestly, compared to my other writings, this one you’re reading right now is subpar. I’ve been trying really hard not to use Medium to vent my problems, but there’s an exception: I will risk leaving myself vulnerable and share my insecurities here if I think they can provide some kind of value for you.

And I do think that this matter is something I need to address. People need to read this. Why? Because I’m not unique. I believe there are (a lot of) other writers out there who are scared shitless when they lose their ability to write.

People need to know that writers, like everybody else, are human, and there are times where they simply can’t do what they’re supposed to do best.

If you’re a writer, give yourself permission to write badly. Don’t dwell on it, obviously. If you write trash every day then who will enjoy reading your writing? But during times where nothing seems to work, just do your best — even if your best is horrible. Don’t let it stop you from doing what you love.

If you’re a reader, thank you for reading this piece (and others like it). Really, it warms my heart that you’re kind enough to read until the end. It gives me hope that this world isn’t simply driven by “informative, educational, and entertaining content,” but also by honest, unfiltered, vulnerable stories.

I don’t know how long it’ll take for me to regain my writing acumen, much less improve it, but I won’t stop trying until it returns to me. That’s how much I love this craft and how much I enjoy having you as a reader.

Let this piece be a testament that before I’m a writer, I’m human.

Imperfect, miserable, weak — yet also steadfast and persevering.

I write to comprehend humanity. If you enjoy my stories, consider buying me a coffee: ko-fi.com/aushaf.

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