Painting Clouds: Writing Even Though You’re Hot Garbage

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A friend of mine said this to me about two years ago:

“Don’t you think the clouds look painted?”

I guess the pretentious, cliché response I should have now, remembering this, is “I’ve never looked at clouds the same way since” – or whatever else makes me seem obnoxious and unbearable. Still, I mean, he wasn’t wrong. Look at a cloud today, just a few shades of grey someone blended and smeared on the sky, maybe some warm colors behind it – if the sun thinks you’re lucky enough.

Now, my friend who said this is far from being a nature enthusiast, philosopher, or writer of any kind. He’s my college-dropout friend, now delivering pizzas, who once made a fake bomb threat in middle school just to get out for the day. He still takes a bit of pride in being able to relocate over a thousand people, but he shouldn’t have told people it was him. I hear military school is, believe it or not, quite unpleasant. It may not seem like I have the best people for friends, but regardless, the next thing he said really caught my interest. Evidently, he’d remarked on the clouds every day on the bus taking him to a fourth-grade classroom, having other kids roll their eyes at him because what he said was un-profound and didn’t come with pictures.

Okay, but kids are wrong. Kids are awful. That quote belongs in a book somewhere so someone can lie beneath a tree, read it, and stop reading when they come by those few words, glance back to reread them, and look at the sky so they can never think about clouds the same way again.

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I’m rambling (pretentiously) by now, but there’s a point to all of this. Let’s say you can’t write. You’re uninspired, you’re scum, you’ve been staring at a blank page or paragraphs with filler words while the painted clouds were blown away somewhere. Maybe you just put down a book and now know just how untalented you really are. Well, here’s the thing. You can say something just as profound as anyone. “The clouds are painted” – anyone could have said it. People have these random thoughts fluttering by – so don’t let them go. Never let a meaningful thought pass you by just so it can fall off into the recesses of your mind, wither, and die with all the other garbage your stream of consciousness puts out.

That’s a stressful proposition – I know, but this is the only time I’ll be giving any concrete advise so hear me out. Good ideas spawn from attentiveness, awareness of the things you or others say that are worth rethinking. Write those things. If you notice them, note them. Then, later, once you’ve grabbed a bagel or whatever and you’re finally ready to confront your disgusting former self, rethink those thinks. Maybe it wasn’t so good, just another thought to embarrass yourself over – but let’s say otherwise. So, you have this thought – maybe you’ve even nicely reworded it to get that dank aesthetic. Think more on that think, ask questions about it, center your work around it – and with those new thinks you’ve thought, rethink them until you have a piece that fourth graders might wrongly roll their eyes over.

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One thing though, just one little tidbit: do keep in mind that writing tends to need a bit of cohesiveness and probably some coherence – so short, amazingly-inspiring quotes won’t cut it. But – and maybe this is just a personal, inconceivable belief of mine – I think anyone who cares enough to gather and regather their best of thoughts and ideas can string together something worth reading, something other people will want to think about.

In a way, I’m saying anyone, people far and wide, talented or otherwise, can write – but not really – because not everyone wants to write. A fair share of people, white-collared or swamp-drenched, don’t much care for the work. Monsters with egos for rent, they manage to sit at a desk and go about their day, scribbling off a page or two of nonsense, adding adjectives so one word fills the next line and the page looks a centimeter longer. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but these people can’t write… at all. And when people see them, they create some sort of fantasy world where people shelving stacks of pages by the hour somehow means you know how to hold a pen.

I want to move into another point: writing is everywhere – and people stress over writing – everywhere. Advertisements, magazine titles – it’s all writing. Imagine having to come up with those few words that make up a title that’ll appear on, let’s say, Vogue. You’d be more than a little stressed – because you’d be writing about something your job depends on, something you care about.

Here’s an example I think you’ll find a touch more relatable. Let’s take a look at those little pieces of nothing that drool from people’s mouths onto the internet.

jomny

This tweet… is more than nothing. It’s a lot. So much, actually, that oodles of peoples have sent their favorite alien something he inspired out of them.

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This is just one of many sent to Jonny – and the tweet itself is just one of many literary artworks thrown into the cosmos. Also, if you think the stretch between those 140-character stains on the internet and, I don’t know what you’d call it – “serious writing” – is so great, you should maybe keep in mind the fact that Jonny has a book coming in June, “Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too”. 

If writing isn’t easy, it’s because you care about what you’re writing. I guess I just hope that by coming to terms with the ubiquity of writing, and by somehow believing that someone working at a Domino’s can write something just as profound as Whitman or Woolf, people might just have a bit more confidence in their no-good, very-bad ideas.

we began

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Medium

Medium is a news website founded in 2012 by Twitter co-founder, Evan Williams. Williams wanted to publish pieces of writing, news stories, that were much longer than Twitter’s 140 character limit. Medium grew separate of Twitter, and is now under A Medium Corporation. The website serves as an example of modern social journalism, meaning while some publications are entirely professional, others are reader-content posted by amateurs.

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Evan Williams in Interview

When you arrive on Medium’s website, there are numerous features to be noticed. At the top of the page, the Medium logo rests, along with the search button, a link to sign in/up, and a link to writing your own story for Medium. The site has a very unique feature here, as it seems to be very inclusive, trying to get anyone to publish something that will be on the same site as professional journalists. Below that, you can see eight categories, one being “home” and one being “bookmarks”, but the rest are tags that sort out the site’s publications by topic. This contrasts sites like Blogger, which sorts sites by writer, not topic. In the body of the homepage, the aforementioned tags are exemplified. The first tag, “Popular on Medium” is written, and only a handful of articles is linked with a picture below it before the next tag has its turn.

The website’s articles can be up-voted, similarly to Reddit posts. They can also be shared by a reader to their Facebook or Twitter feed – or, if they’d just like it for themselves, they can bookmark the article to come back to it at any time. Their audience, while still much smaller than Facebook or Twitter, estimates it gets 25 million views per month – but what it really prides itself on is the duration people spend reading. It is a young demographic with an overwhelming majority having a college or graduate school education. With this audience, and with publications stretching far longer than 140 characters, Medium’s bragging of the audience’s time spent on the site is wholly justified.

Medium is successful in creating an informative website, blending real journalism with fun reader-content. Their articles shown when you first go to the website tend to cover politics and worldly matters, however it can be easy to get lost in the more sentimental portions of the site, the incredibly detailed stories of a love lost or finding out a mother has dementia. It is in this section of Medium, the “Life” tag, where I believe the site has the most value, presenting readers someone’s real story, someone’s real emotions that are more than applicable to the general public.

 

Why I Write

Joan Didion has long been an American author known for her great strides in journalism. Her works have often stressed the loss in ethics and the presence of cultural turmoil. This piece was originally published under the same name in the New York Times in 1976 and has been shortened and rewritten for a digital audience as follows.

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Of course I stole the title from George Orwell. One reason I stole it was that I like the sound of the words: Why I Write. There you have three short unambiguous words that share a sound, and the sound they share is this:

     “I”

In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even a hostile act. You can disguise its qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions—with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating—but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space. I stole the title not only because the words sounded right but because they seemed to sum up, in a no-nonsense way, all I have to tell you. Like many writers I have only this one “subject,” this one “area”: the act of writing.

 

“I knew why Charlotte went to the airport even if Victor did not.”

“I knew about airports.”

These lines appear about halfway through A Book of Common Prayer, but I wrote them during the second week I worked on the book, long before I had any idea where Charlotte Douglas had been or why she went to airports. Until I wrote these lines I had no character called “Victor” in mind: the necessity for mentioning a name, and the name “Victor,” occurred to me as I wrote the sentence. I knew why Charlotte went to the airport sounded incomplete. I knew why Charlotte went to the airport even if Victor did not carried a little more narrative drive. Most important of all, until I wrote these lines I did not know who “I” was, who was telling the story. I had intended until then that the “I” be no more than the voice of the author, a nineteenth-century omniscient narrator. But there it was:

“I knew why Charlotte went to the airport even if Victor did not.”

“I knew about airports.”

This “I” was the voice of no author in my house. This “I” was someone who not only knew why Charlotte went to the airport but also knew someone called “Victor.” Who was Victor? Who was this narrator? Why was this narrator telling me this story? Let me tell you one thing about why writers write: had I known the answer to any of these questions I would never have needed to write a novel.

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For the original publication, see here.