What is repeat writing?

SOMETHING inside you desperately wants to write — and keep writing, despite the embarrassment, financial uncertainty and accusations of attention-seeking (and “wanting to be famous”) it might bring. You just feel a need to put your ideas into words, to share your stories (and those of others) and to pour out your heart. But there are barriers everywhere.

Does this not arouse the Repeat Writer within?

Furthermore, you grapple with questions of:

  • “How will I find time to write?”
  • “How can I make money from writing?”
  • “Am I even a writer?”

What should you do? The answer is simple: you should write. If you have already started, you should keep writing. But how do you do that? “Writing and keeping on writing” is a plan that is much easier to theorise than it is to practice.

This is a blog about Repeat Writing — what I consider the act of continually turning up, sitting down (or standing, if you prefer) and working away at the craft of writing. I am focused on integrating writing practices into your life, in healthy, constructive ways and being realistic about what writing can do for you and your career. I am also interested in challenging assumptions that writers must be exceptional and that wealth and fame are the most important ways of measuring success.

I work on the premise that as a Repeat Writer:

  • You write — for personal, creative or professional reasons;
  • You want to keep writing, perhaps for the remainder of your life; and
  • You can get better at writing by continually doing it

We live in a society that is obsessed with exceptionalism, fame and wealth. For some reason, “being a writer” is often associated with these obsessions, and romanticised beyond all reality. Writers, supposedly, are gazillionaires living in secluded mansions, churning out best-selling novels for devoted fans. They are, supposedly, beautiful and charming as well. Or they are, supposedly, tortured, dysfunctional, creative geniuses — who, in spite of their lifestyles, succeed because of their divine gifts. These stereotypes of exceptional people are, supposedly, what you should aspire to be. Why bother to be a writer if you don’t want such a life?

Consider this, though: you don’t expect a plumber to be truly exceptional, world-famous and mega-rich. You don’t expect them to be praised by critics and adored by millions around the world. But you can appreciate the quality of their work; you can pay them to deliver a product, using expertise, skill, efficiency and professionalism. You can recommend them to a friend, because they did an “excellent job”.

Let’s say, then, that writing is also a trade: you combine skills, knowledge and expertise to undertake a task in exchange for money. You don’t need adoration, you don’t need to carry immense regret for not winning an international prize and you don’t need to feel ashamed for having tried in the first place. (I’m sure plumbers don’t feel these things.) You just need a task to do — and to do it well. You don’t have to be exceptional, or the greatest, or a genius — but nothing’s stopping your work being excellent, or of high standard.

Preferably, you get paid for your work, but if you can’t find customers, perhaps your writing is something that serves another useful purpose. If so, similar principles still apply (just without payment): perhaps you write reflectively, as a way of dealing with your emotions; or you write a song to entertain your friends; or writing fantasy stories is simply a hobby you have, like playing basketball or knitting is for others. Perhaps the “return” is not financial but emotional or spiritual. Whatever the case, you can write without carrying the baggage of wanting to be exceptional, rich and famous.

In any case, trying to be exceptional or famous can be exercises in self-humiliation. Some people are exceptional, but most people aren’t. That applies in all fields, especially creative ones. So, setting out to be exceptional or famous is unlikely to end well. But that’s the good news — because, simply being “good at what you do” is a perfectly achievable, realistic goal for any writer. In fact, it liberates the Repeat Writer in you to embrace the practice of writing.

Writing is something at which you can improve; if you are not already, you can become a very good writer — but it takes commitment, perseverance and honesty. It requires you to integrate the act of writing into your everyday routine, while balancing the responsibilities of life and the uncertainties of the world around you. It requires you to continually write. I use the word continually rather than continuously because few people can sit in a room, uninterrupted by their social reality, and write to their heart’s content.

The life of a Repeat Writer is one of give and take, stops and starts. You write when you can; writing is a regular, though intermittent, process. If you get paid to write, then you write when the work is there — you familiarise yourself with your task and you sit down to write. If you don’t get paid to write, then you write when you’re not working, once you have fulfilled your professional, family and study commitments.

Viewed through the lens of a Repeat Writer, writing is not, by default, a vanity project, a waste of time or mere attention seeking. It can be all of those things — but it doesn’t have to be. It can be a healthy, constructive, and — if you’re lucky — financially rewarding part of your life. If it is part of you — if you need to write — then allowing yourself to continually do so is a perfectly valid pursuit.

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