For the longest time, I used to think there was an empirical formula for this kind of thing.
I was foreign in a rich land at the age of 8, and to this day, I have the weirdest insecurity that no matter how much I admire the English language, I just won’t be adequate enough to articulate it as properly as many Americans can.
I tried using the formulaic methods, reading up on every victorian novel I could find, writing poetry and short stories and letters, collecting discrepancies between the diction, the tone, the setting. I kept journals and idea-lists for my next book. And I loved it — Writing was something that differentiated between me from being in a good mood to a bad mood.
Yet, it was like every time I’d start, I’d always switch into this pretentious, 18th century upperclassman attempting to talk about the present in an outdated way. I thought I was revolutionary for writing like that, truly ingenious. I had found very little in the same style in modern literature, and I figured it must be because I’d discovered something no one had even thought to include before in any contemporary writing, ever.
Fast forward to a few years ago, and all of a sudden, I noticed that the contemporary novels I was reading were written in pretty plain English, but it wasn’t the semantics of how they were written that had made them so popular. It was the choice of words that had created a human connectivity between the author and writer. In school, they teach you that having a connection is the most important thing, blah blah blah. But they never mentioned to explain just what connectivity meant.
Here I was, in my teenage years, trying to impress the audience with my ostentatious vernacular, and it was doing nothing but confusing the hell out of everyone around me. And of all things, I thought the confusion was a good sign because it made me sound more sophisticated. Ugh.
Looking back at that writing now, I don’t think I’ve read anything more stoic and wooden. It’s like reading something a robot would write about data structures, honestly. I mean, yes, a lot of writers cringe at their past works, but this was such a huge leap of realization. It was only recently that I discovered that writing like you’d normally talk is probably a thousand times better, because at least you sound human.
And that’s when I figured it out. There is no formula. There’s no definitive way to write well or perfectly. It’s literally so varied and diverse, that it can’t possibly be methodized into a working calculation. It would probably render the point of writing to be useless, actually. But see, no one teaches you these things. And even if they do, they never specify what it means because they’d be afraid to limit your potential (again, something I didn’t figure out until later).
At the same time though, having read countless novels and written so much over the years, I still didn’t get what the hell was missing from what I wrote. It made me afraid to write anything at all, and I still linger in that fear sometimes, that it’s better to just not even bother than to learn every single type of writing.
But eventually, I just stopped giving a shit, which might be coincidentally what enabled me to become a bit better. I mean, of course, I didn’t eliminate the entirety of my style — I still incorporate the dapper details (ugh, okay I’ll stop now) every now and again because I like them, but that doesn’t mean I have to beep-boop my way into explaining everything in the universe ever, on one piece of paper.
I’d imagine that to some of you, this information is so obvious. This is probably where my insecurity stems from, too: Figuring that I was just too slow to pick it up unlike everyone who’s just lived here their entire lives. At least now, that insecurity has a follow-up thought of: Well, it could be worse. I could be illiterate.