So Why Do I Write?
Because my parents had literary backgrounds? Lol idk.
At least that's gotta be the reason why I wrote The Tale of Cats when I was like 5 years old:
Around that time, I also wrote a short verse about me going to the forest to pick mushrooms, yet finding only trash.
Was this why I got into Eminem in elementary? An environmentalist at heart at 5?
Probably not, but I know for sure I liked cats.
These things were silly, but that's how I got into writing.
And it went on from there.
Because I had to write in school
I'd been writing on and off since I was a kid, but it didn't really occur to me to ask myself why until recently.
In school, we had to write essays, and it came easy to me. I didn't enjoy the process, but I didn't have any problems with it either.
Here's how I'd write a typical school essay:
- Think about the topic. The motives of Dostoyevsky's Raskolnikov, the causes of the French Revolution, the pros and cons of legalizing euthanasia, whatever it was. Just think about it.
- Read more as needed. But nothing too serious. I needed to know just enough to turn a few facts into a few paragraphs of sensible filler.
- Start with a generic introduction. "What was the real reason for Raskolnikov's actions? One might say it's greed. In reality, it's something much deeper. Let's start with..." Blah-yadda, a few sentences.
- Throw in a few paragraphs of filler. The thoughts, the whys, the hows. Ask questions. "Could it be greed? Why then the trembling creature question? That's not what ordinary thugs do. However..." More blah-yadda.
- Wrap up by restating your thesis. Bonus points for connecting it to something bigger. "In conclusion, I don't believe it was greed that's driven Raskolnikov. It was his inferiority complex, his deep insecurity gone unchecked. So I think it's crucial that we look at ourselves in the mirror more often, or we risk becoming Raskolnikovs ourselves." Or something.
- The end! Go hand it in.
Easy-peasy, and the teachers ATE IT UP!
So although I was never specifically taught writing, I could definitely do it.
But I wasn't a huge fan of writing either. I couldn't care less about Raskolnikov's motives, I wasn't interested in the causes of the French Revolution, and I definitely didn't feel like expressing my opinion about euthanasia in writing.
Not that I had one anyway.
Writing was what we were expected to do in school, so I did it.
But I did communicate in writing
If you consider chats and messengers writing, that is.
See, I grew up a shy kid. I also got bullied in school. So, I pretty much hated the idea of interacting with people in real life. I didn't know how to do it, I was super awkward doing it, and so I preferred the online world to the offline one.
Thank science for the internet!
It really was my whole world. And IRC was my favorite way of communicating with people. I LOVED it. I had tons of friends online, and I'd often stay up late into the night discussing pretty much everything:
Games. Homework. Who did what last weekend. How Alex** is an asshole bully. Song meanings. Cartoon Network. The inherent unfairness of life. How we'll all be happy and rich one day.
It wasn't formal writing, but it was me expressing most of my thoughts and experiences in writing. And I had a book's worth of those in my teens.
That's how I first really experienced thinking, feeling, and communicating through writing. And I liked it. Hadn't it been for the internet, I'd be stuck with like two and a half classmate friends instead of meeting people from all over the world. And it improved my English. What's not to like?
But it was all in private. I didn't get into publishing until later, for a few reasons.
The dangers of writing online
I was shy throughout school, and I was afraid of these three things***:
- Being criticized.
- Being wrong.
- Being made fun of.
And what's the first thing that's gonna happen when you write online?
- You'll get criticized.
- You'll get told you're wrong.
- You'll be made fun of.
But that was my impression.
So naturally, the idea of publishing anything online didn't appeal to me, especially under my real name. The last thing I wanted was for others to get to know the real me, and to then get bullied online or worse in addition to everything else.
Even on pseudonymous IRC I stuck to talking in DMs and smaller channels, and just lurked in the larger ones. When IRC and live chats started to give way to the early social media platforms, I was absolutely not on board.
Why the hell would I???
I still remember the day some random dude got into my DMs on the local Myspace analog threatening to track me down and knock my teeth out because he didn't like my photo or something like that. It was dumb and clearly a prank, bro!, but I spent a few weeks feeling nervous on my walks to and from school. Lol.
A few things had to happen in my life before I could at least consider publishing online.
J/k, writing online is fine
It took me graduating high school and college before I started considering it.
By that time, three things happened:
- I toughened up just a little.
- I started having real opinions.
- I found myself in a new environment.
In high school, I built a hard shell around myself to deal with**** my insecurities. I spent a few years training MMA to toughen up. I got a buzzcut, then a mohawk. It didn't address the underlying issues, but it made me feel confident enough to not be terrified of sharing my thoughts with more than just my friends.
It was also when I started having my first real thoughts and opinions. The things I really believed in*****, not just parroted or said because I was expected to.
Finally, the environment around me has changed. School gave way to college, college gave way to the office, the people were different. We were all "grown-ups" now.
These three factors combined with my love for the text format and the new life experiences finally made me ready to give publishing myself online a try.
So I got me a brand new personal website.
Initially, purely for job hunting purposes. It featured my CV and the few software projects I had going on at that time. I instinctively understood the need for a personal brand back then, but it wasn't a fully formed idea yet.
Time went on. I changed jobs, moved countries, worked on more projects, got into freelancing. At that point, I realized I'm ready to start sharing them in public.
So I turned my website into a blog.
People don't care all that much anyway
My new blog was nothing fancy, just a dev ranting about Linux, Magento, and other unexciting things (such as how GIMP's UX is inconceivably horrible).
That's when I realized a thing about writing online:
- People don't really care about you all that much.
A few of my articles gained a little traction, but for the most part I was yelling at clouds. So it made me chill out somewhat.
It was also one of the first times I experienced the feeling of helping someone through my writing. I'd publish a rant about a Magento error, and a random person would drop by the comments and thank me because they'd been struggling with the same error and my post helped them.
And helping people felt good.
My blog was primarily about software, so my personal thoughts and opinions had to go somewhere else. At some point I signed up on Facebook, still a little wary of being myself.
And guess what happened?
Yep, nothing of consequence, really.
I'd be writing paragraphs of rants about life, sharing travel albums and the Friday night photos, and still, no one outside my immediate friend circle seemed to care.
People don't really care about you all that much and have their own lives to live.
The times of crisis
A few more things happened over the next few years:
- I switched from freelancing to starting my own business.
- I experienced my first identity crisis because of that.
- I transitioned from writing online to creating content.
A piece of software I built in my spare time made me consider turning it into a business. I wasn't a great strategist back then, so I merged my personal and business websites, wiping my articles in the process. That was the end of my blog.
I also experienced my first identity crisis around that time.
The gist of it was:
- This business thing is a lot more difficult than I had expected.
- I'm not the Steve Jobs I had imagined myself to be.
- I have absolutely no idea how the world around me works.
- I'm technically an adult, but I don't feel like one.
Long story short, I got through it and started figuring life and business out. Making friends and talking to people, but also hiring, managing, sales, marketing. All the things you have to learn when starting a business.
I got better, but it was hard. And the more setbacks I experienced, the less desire I had to share any of my thoughts and experiences in public:
Why would anyone care about what a failure like me has to say?
The insecurities came back. They have always been there, of course. You can't fix them with the hard shell, MMA, and the buzzcut. What's hidden has to come out.
This was the end of me writing online. Instead, I started creating content.
Writing online vs creating content
I tried hiring marketers and copywriters, but these hires never worked out. Lots of reasons. Wrong people, zero strategy, no budget, and I was a shitty manager, too.
So I took over marketing myself eventually. Well, "marketing". I still hated talking to people, so my marketing meant resorting to the only thing I knew: writing.
A quick content creation side note:
At its core, creating content for business isn't all that much different from writing an essay about Raskolnikov's motives. The process is very similar: you think about the topic, you read more, then you write, then you publish.
(Then you get zero traffic. F-. Off you go to the principal's office.)
Two more steps you need to take if you want your business content to work out:
- Make sure you're writing for the right audience.
- Don't forget to promote your stuff.
It took me way too long to figure this part out.
Anyway, for about a year or so I was actively:
- Writing about marketplaces, ecommerce, software.
- Creating in-depth guides, lead magnets, documentation.
- Publishing on LinkedIn, Quora, elsewhere.
I was being a content creator.
And I didn't really like it. I didn't care that much for the content. Unlike my Linux rants that I felt strongly about, creating business content was just a boring job.
Just like the school essays, I had to do it. And since it wasn't hard, I kept doing it.
Until I didn't anymore.
More times of crisis
Because eventually, the business failed******.
There went my last reason to write online, so I stopped writing.
It also made me lose the reason to live for a while, actually.
The gist of my second identity crisis was:
- My business was my identity, so what am I now?
- Years later, I still suck at business. And at life, for the most part.
- I'm still not the person I had imagined myself to be.
- I keep repeating the same mistakes and not learning from them.
And there were so many other things going wrong in my life on top of this.
This was when I saw I only got two options:
- Try to bottle it up again and rebuild my shell. Take the blue pill, the story ends.
- Address my insecurities head-on, work through them, and finally get this over with.
Actually, forget the red pill blue pill analogy. There was no choice, really. Going with #1 meant finding myself in the same exact spot in life a decade later. That would mean really, really fucking the future me over.
So I went with #2, therapy and everything. This helped me become much more open, honest, and transparent. With myself and with those around me.
The shell cracked and fell away.
Help and get helped
That's when I once again experienced the power of deep conversations.
Talking to people helped me find myself and the way forward. I had friends with whom I would share my deepest thoughts and anxieties, the challenges I was facing, and the lessons I learned.
And the best thing about these conversations?
They were a two-way street. It wasn't just me venting, it was me and the person on the other side exchanging ideas, digging deeper, and coming up with solutions, insights, and breakthroughs. Not just for me, but for both sides.
Working through my problems together with somebody helped me understand myself better, but it also helped the other person look differently at their own life.
And sometimes, you don't need that much to discover something new about yourself. You might be one meaningful conversation away from changing your life for the better right now.
And most of my conversations at that time were in writing, of course.
I was writing to get help, and helped in the process.
Think and remember
Around that time, I had another important insight about myself.
I wasn't great at retaining information:
- Thoughts, ideas, and insights kept getting forgotten.
- Life events kept fading away from memory.
- What had been life-changing years ago was now merely a blip.
And it sucked! Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.
(Or whatever the original quote is. You don't need to be Winston Churchill to realize that if you keep making the same mistakes it's a problem.)
So I decided to start keeping track of my life.
I started a daily diary. A simple gratitude journal and event log at first, it grew into something that kept track of my thoughts, lessons, insights, and so much more. The regular retrospectives made sure I'll never forget the really important things.
I started saving chat logs and taking notes from them because of how immensely valuable they were. More than once I found myself at 3am, hours into a deep conversation with a friend, thinking "this is the most important insight about my life that we just stumbled upon here, if I forget it I'm screwed forever".
I started summarizing books and taking notes from articles. I started writing down the tasks I need to get done and tracking my habits, and ended up with a makeshift task manager and a habit tracker.
Writing helped me think, remember, and organize.
At this point, all of my writing was still in private.
The deepest, life-changing conversations I've had with my friends were either 1:1's or very tight-knit chats.
Yet the more of those conversations I had, the more I thought about just how valuable they would be to others. Yes, every one of us is unique. But we're all humans, and as humans, we're all still dealing with similar issues.
So why not pass a life-changing insight forward?
In some cases, that's exactly what I'd do. I would forward the whole conversation I've had with one friend to another one with a comment like "READ THIS. IT'S SO IMPORTANT. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT IT??". And that would often start a new discussion, which would produce new insights.
It was magical to see thoughts and ideas being shared and evolving into something completely different. And the more I saw this happen, the more I regretted the fact that at best, less than a dozen people would directly benefit from these discussions. Because 1:1 doesn't really scale.
What else could I do to help more people wrestling with the same problems?
Write online. That's how you scale help. That's how you help lots of people.
I've come full circle back to the idea of writing online.
Write daily, keep improving
I decided to resurrect my blog, but it took me almost two years until I was ready.
In the meantime, I kept my diary, and occasionally shared my thoughts on socials.
And the more I did it, the more benefits of writing I saw:
- It made me a better conversationalist.
- It made me a better speaker and listener.
- It helped me express myself.
- It boosted my confidence.
Writing was making me a better human, personally and professionally. I finally saw writing as a fundamental part of my life, not just a transient hobby. If I wanted to keep improving as a person, I had to keep improving my writing.
I finally decided to give daily writing a try, but it took me a few tries to get it right.
Clearly, writing was important. And I knew I had to make it a daily habit. But I didn't quite know how to make it a daily habit. What do I write about?
The first time I quit after a few weeks of writing whatever came to mind at the moment. I was writing down streams of consciousness, and they felt absolutely useless.
A few months later, I came up with a plan. A simple plan, really. Dude, you got a decade's worth of thoughts and experiences in your head. Just pick one every day, and write at least 500 words about it. What's the problem?
That's what I did. No problems whatsoever.
And deep down, I knew I want to share it with the world. But just to make sure I can keep the habit going once I'm public, I decided to write daily for a month before getting the new website up. And 30 drafts later, I knew I can do it.
That's when I finally got the new blog up. It's the one you're on right now. And it's the one I plan to keep til death do us part.
Still writing daily drafts two months later, btw.
Make friends, create serendipity
One more thing...
Writing online creates serendipity:
- You attract people by consistently sharing your ideas online.
- And if your ideas help them, you make friends and create opportunities.
That's the ultimate power of writing online.
Just don't be materialistic. Be generous, be helpful, be genuine. People will notice.
And sure, some people might not like what you're saying.
You might get criticized.
You might get told you're wrong.
You might get made fun of.
So why do I write?
It's simple, really:
- I write to think and remember.
- I write to help and get helped.
- I write to keep growing as a person.
- I write to make friends and create serendipity.
These are my reasons to write.
There are many others like these, but these ones are mine.
P.S. I'll share my writing process sometime. If you're struggling with your writing, comment below or hit me up on Twitter. Let's be friends!
* The cats left the car by the sea. The plane arrived ten minutes later. The cats boarded it and the pilot got into the car. The cats told him where to take the car. He drove away. No one knew how to drive the plane, but Rudy knew. The cats said: it's good that we got Rudy or we wouldn't have flown anywhere. They flew to Africa. Ten days later they were in Africa. They were very hungry. They ate some fish they caught in the sea and drank coconut milk. The cats found an empty hut and started living in it. They wanted to find the king of this land and that what they wanted before - the treasure. They went to the place where they thought for a long time. Finally Tom found a map. There were drawings of roads leading to the treasure and to the king's kingdom. They hit the road. // Chapter four. The cats and the king. © Little Martin, all rights reserved, probably.
** Name might or might not have been changed for privacy reasons.
*** In addition to the usual, like getting beat up, getting rejected by my crush, never feeling happy again, being grounded, getting bad grades, growing up a failure. I still got my IRC logs from like 20 years ago archived somewhere, I'm sure they're a fun read.
**** Bottling it up and shutting it out is not a solution. Trust me, save yourself years of frustration.
***** Except for "I'll never stop being an anarchist, mom!". Turns out I didn't really believe in this.
****** I knew it would fail, and it would've failed a lot sooner had I not been stubbornly refusing to face reality. A separate story for later.