September 8th is International Literacy Day, something I came to know recently. The focus on reading and writing remains a big concern for education worldwide. Coincidently, I had my last week-long writing session at a high school on September 8th. One of the first questions I asked the participants was if they liked writing. The question was almost a no-brainer. In some classes, two hands went up, some were confused or reluctant, but the majority said they did not enjoy writing. I could understand. I have been a part of a writing workshop for over a month where a group of writers who love writing in every way possible met to write a short story, and each of us struggled to do just that – write.

Writing is hard

Perhaps writing is hard, I tell myself. And maybe this toughness is not acknowledged enough. Last spring, I was accepted into a research program and the focus right from the first day was to read something every day and to write something every day. Did I achieve to do that? I have been reading something every day, but writing every day is where I have lagged. So, when the students in the class said they did not like writing, I felt a tiny pinch, but I knew how difficult a task writing is in reality.

During the week I spent at the high school, I met up with educators and friends from the school leading to some interesting observations and idea sharing. I often felt a big block between the students and their writing skills. It was as though they knew they needed this skill, but something was stopping them. I tried to ease the students in the session, but removing the block will be a much harder and longer task. I realized perhaps I could not show them where exactly they could use the exercises they were doing – I went through the same education system as they did, and while changes are in progress, the result-oriented nature of our world might be one of the blocks on the road.

A lot of time writing will be ‘time wasted’

In 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, historian Yuval Noah Harari writes, “If you cannot afford to waste time, you will never find the truth.”

I began thinking if this might also hold for writing. Much of writing is ‘time wasted.’ And perhaps ‘time’ is the hardest part of writing. There will always be tons of messy drafts that might never get anywhere. Pages after pages will be stuffed inside drawers or hidden inside computers with nowhere to go. And yet, if we want to write, we must get through this.

The time taken to write that mess and then to get over it is perhaps one of the toughest aspects of writing. The students in the class might have felt something similar too. The thought that they were wasting their time in the session writing passages and learning exercises that they might not use right away might have crossed their minds at least once.

While the young students may not like writing, I have a whole bunch of adult friends who bring up their eagerness to write more and improve every time we meet up. They go back to the same education system the students are in, which might not have been as successful in introducing the art of writing. Once more, ‘time’ is the toughest thing they might face. If time is money, then writing requires that we use a lot of it without reaching an end in near sight. As adults, this concept is even more painstakingly difficult to take in.

‘Time wasted’ as latent potential

An argument can be made that time spent writing is not time wasted, and that is indeed true. The concept of ‘time wasted’ might stand for time spent without generating desired results or outcomes, but that is not waste in an absolute sense. Habits expert James Clear in his book Atomic Habits describes this phenomenon as ‘The Plateau of Latent Potential’ and ‘Valley of Disappointment’. He writes, “It doesn’t feel like you are going anywhere. It’s a hallmark of any compounding process: the most powerful outcomes are delayed.”

The Plateau of Latent Potential by James Clear

We get the outcome of our actions much later on. The potential is hidden in its latent form. The outcomes of our writing journeys might be realized much later on and likely in a state that we might not have guessed. Not everyone wants to become published writers after all.

While writing this piece, I realized that the Valley of Disappointment also exists in smaller sprints of time. I had the idea for this piece while I was heading to my class on September 8th on the bus. I finally got to writing it on the evening of September 9th after some light brainstorming. I had to plough through the first 400 words, I had to force myself to type one line after another, fight the desire to just give up. Then, the remaining words came.

Writing for the future

In a funny and insightful video titled ‘Some Advice,’ youtube creator and writer John Green shares that he flosses his teeth for his future self, the same with wearing sunscreen. And the same with writing. Like the latent potential that might burst out in the future, much of what we are learning is for the future – our future selves or maybe somebody else!

Then, I think ‘time’ is the hardest part of writing – writing with a lot of mess, time dedicated to create that mess, and writing for the future that we cannot quite see yet. In a time of instant gratification, this is likely to be the toughest when it comes to writing.

Posted by:Alfa M. Shakya

Someone who likes to make things.

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