My Darkest Fantasy About The Writing Life
How differently — and more bravely — would you write if you knew you only had one week left to live?
Sometimes, usually in the small hours of the night, I come to Medium to share a few thoughts.
I still operate under the assumption that nobody actually reads anything that I write here. The periodic email I receive from a strangers encourages me to know that people are reading this feed. As do the slowly climbing followers and views counts, both of which threaten to lull me out of that comfortable illusion.
As I’ve mentioned a few times already, I share primarily because I love writing (at the time I write this, this Medium account still isn’t paywalled. Even though, by now, I could probably use the traffic to buy myself beer).
I find writing deeply therapeutic.
When people talk about the mental health benefits they derive from writing, they frequently talk solely about catharsis: about expunging something from your soul by jotting it down on a page.
But writing goes way beyond that for me. Like into a whole different territory. When people tell me that writing something lifted a weight off their chest I must admit to feeling “yes, but that’s all it did for you?”
Clarifying my thoughts to the extent that they can be communicated at least somewhat lucidly has helped me work through sometimes difficult thought processes — like what to do with my career — and arrive at decisions that would have taken me days to work through had I not tired to jot them down. To crystallize them into sentences that make sense to more people than just me.
Do I think that everybody should blog their way to career changes and dating partners? No- I think most of us could live without knowing those details. But I reckon most people could benefit from at least starting a journal.
Because I’m writing both for fun, to open source what I know, and for some form of self therapy, I tend to spread my topics a little thin.
Content Creation: The Best Means Of Open Sourcing Your Life’s Thinking (And Knowledge)
An argument in favor of sharing just about anything that might be of interest to other humans
I’ve written here about my various hobbies — mostly technology-related things. But because I have rent to pay and must think at least somewhat strategically I’ve also shared some thoughts on marketing that have brought me some work. It’s a mish mash that defies all the advice I give my clients about building a coherent brand.
But sometimes I know that I’m playing it way too safe. That I have so much more to get off my chest — and verbalize — than I allow myself to. Like most writers, I’m a fierce critic of my own work. But also a relentless self-censor. But it’s when I have that thought that I indulge in my darkest writing fantasy.
Sometimes I Wish I Had One Week To Live, A Typewriter, And A Room
Firstly, lest this be misunderstood, let me be totally clear.
Although my now gallbladder-less body no longer seems to digest food so well and the odd waft of allergens flares up my asthma, I suffer from no major health problems — at least that I know of. Thank G-d.
Furthermore, I wish to live until at least 120 — which is a Jewish custom that roughly means “ a long life.” I affirm the value of life.
But in an abstract and creative sort of way — perhaps that befitting a tortured artist — I’ve sometimes thought about the following:
How amazing it would be to know that your remaining tenure on this planet was not only finite but was also about to run out. Like pretty damn soon run out. Like next week. Or next month.
And if you were still well enough to use a computer, how liberating it would be to finally be able to write whatever you want.
Without a care in the world about who it offended. One single one.
Without worrying about what your judgmental relatives might think of it when their web browser stumbled upon it. Or your friends. Or those who you thought were your friends.
Without worrying about what society might think. Or prospective employers.
Without endlessly rewriting yourself into exhaustion because you knew that if there ever wasn’t a time and place for perfectionism this was it. Because for once that voice is telling you “if you want to get those last thoughts out to the world then this is your chance, buddy. There’s no time for a draft two!”
Hell, without even worrying about the legal repercussions of what you write, narrate, or say. Because defamation law can take a serious chill pill when you’re on the next train out of town.
How nice would it feel to finally close down the Office Of Self Censorship that demands — relentlessly — that anything you write:
- Must be in accordance with your personal brand
- Must project the kind of image you want to your clients or the world (successful, creative)
- Must be within that broad pale of acceptability that’s called “the mainstream” — which fits in tidily with the mainstream narrative on echo chambers like LinkedIn (or parts thereof) but which is really a one way ticket to writing boring drivel that nobody really cares about.
Without caring one bit about the reaction at all. Whether anybody read your composition. Or nobody at all. Or whether you managed to just squeeze enough time in to self-publish a novel on Amazon that students in one hundred year’s time might come to scrutinize as we read the work of Shakespeare today.
You could become a famous author during the last minute of your lifetime. You could be admired posthumously. But it would all be the same to you because the curtain’s almost ready to come down.
Now ask yourself: wouldn’t that be a pretty cool state to get to?
If Your Thinking Is Vaguely Morbid, That Might Mean It Might Help
If you stumbled upon this blog because you’re having serious thoughts about jumping off a bridge or even dark thoughts about whether you want to go on with the business of life at all, please stop reading this post now and ask for help from a mental health professional. Because when it comes to that stuff, I’m unqualified to do anything more than throw in that disclaimer.
What I simply mean to suggest, rather, is the following:
Has somebody — perhaps a friend, perhaps another writer — suggested that you should write something. Not a blog post. But maybe a really poignant one. Something big. A book. A screenplay.
And your soul has lit up at the prospect of doing just that.
But then a millisecond later your rational brain kicks in with a whole string of objections — like the campus police crashing the party. The ones which the Office of Self Censorship likes to throw out whenever you have an idea that’s even somewhat creative:
- Yeah but, what if my boss read it?!
- What if my family knew that I was X?
You might then have joked — or thought — that you would totally write that if … ya know … the clock was really ticking its way down to zero.
Perhaps that’s the moment when it might be wise to silent the censor and double check whether it really really can’t be written.
So here’s the thing. Although I hope it’s obvious.
I don’t want the week to live thing. At all.
I just want the mental liberty that I imagine goes along with it.
I want to live my longevity pie while also nibbling on the satisfaction of not giving two … more nibbles .. about what anybody thinks of me or my writing.
I like to keep the week-to-live writing as an ideal in my mind in the same way that the Stoics sometimes used mental devices to remind themselves about their own mortality.
For me, it represents the goal standard. Of how brave I’d like to be with my writing.
This post took me one tiny step closer towards it.
Although I’m under no illusions that there aren’t hundreds more to go.
If you’ve got an edgy idea you think might be worth sharing, don’t jump at the first opportunity to find reasons why it couldn’t be written. Or video-d. Or … whatever creative pursuit you’re into.
I can imagine that when you really only have a week to go … and you mightn’t be fit and well enough to use that typewriter … that you might really regret not having already written it.
This piece, by Tim Denning, is one of the best and most on-point articles I’ve read online in the last couple of years.
99% of Writers Are Playing It Way Too Safe with Their Content
If you think to yourself “ehhh maybe I shouldn’t write about that” then you should probably write about it
Also elucidating the same thought: