After college, I got a few gigs by offering editing and proofreading to writers with many different goals. I found that I much preferred the dry and clunky writing of an ESL graduate student’s thesis over the super writer-y writings of a writer. The graduate student has something to tell us, so she uses language as a tool to convey that information. But the writer is trying to be a writer. He uses language to present himself to us as a writer. Reading their work always reminded me of a waiter that Jean-Paul Sartre had once. The waiter was just a little too "waiter-esque", trying too hard to do what he imagines good waiters do, being too pleasing to the guests, too precise, too… ergh!
The best writing has little do with showing off vocabulary and prose. It always starts with having something to tell others. Something that is either a useful skill or insight, or maybe a new or humorous way of looking at an old idea. From there, the task becomes one of finding the best and most concise words to express that thing you are trying to tell others.
Many who identify as writers do have things to tell people about, but those things are always collateral to the one big thing they want to tell us; that is, they are writers. Many of the words they place in their sentences only seem to be there illustrate this facet of their identity. It’s as distracting as the pimp who wears the quintessential pimp hat and gold watch. The best way to prevent this – to keep your writing clear and to the point – is to always critique yourself as you write. Ask yourself, “what is my genuine motivation for writing this? Do I have something worth saying? Or am I writing from my ego – to secure the bag?”
In Coty’s perfect world, everyone would stay at their soul crushing jobs, privately mumble to themselves about how much they hated it, and then go home to write only if they had something worthwhile to say. Or, at the very least, people who identified was writers would live a life of voluntary poverty, like Plato’s elite class whose only interest is pursuing the good, the beautiful, and the true. Unfortunately, we don’t live in Coty’s perfect world. Writing is permanently wrapped up in the economy—the information economy—and what to write about will always be tied to the whims and the appetites of the markets on any given day.
What do the markets want? They want something aesthetic. Something pleasing. Naturally, the writing that will perform best in these markets will be rather superficial. They will also be rushed. To be a writer, to be someone whose status or economic well being is connected to writing, means to increase your output. Depth will be sacrificed in favor of frequency, and conciseness replaced by flare.
If you don’t want to get trapped in the hamster wheel, or for writing to become another soulless job, here is my advice. Don’t be a writer. Don’t write anything simply because you think it’s what will get the most attention, upvotes, tips, etc. Don’t write anything because you imagined that’s how a “good writer” would write it. Don’t be like Sartre’s waiter. Instead, go out into the world. Develop some skills, have new experiences, and take risks. In the words of Nietzsche, “Build your cities on the slopes of Vesuvius! Send your ships into uncharted seas! Live at war with your peers and yourselves!”
Whether your adventures end in triumph or tragedy, you will then have something worth writing about. The reader will sense the richness of your experiences on the page. It will stand out compared to the daily turning of the hamster wheel the other writings are running on. The reader is going to forget about their listicles. They’ll remember you. You won’t be just another writer, but a complete human being who uses writing to inform, entertain, and share your breadth of experience and wisdom.