Having written

I remember the first time I wrote for pleasure. It was the second grade – we had a bunch of vocab words and could choose between writing out all the definitions and using them in the short story. I, being a massive nerd, chose the latter, and wrote some sort of ‘wanted poster’ (think something like this, with words) for an unruly cat. It was dumb, but I didn’t really know it was dumb, and my teacher was super pleased and so were my parents. I did good!

That was the first time I realized I could delight people with words. This set me off on a long road of finding it more comfortable and rewarding to type things rather than say them.


In middle school and high school, when I was probably at my weirdest, I wrote even more.

I wrote about a bunch of stuff, but most of it expressed my interests at the time (video games and fantasy novels). Lots of epic fantasy novels with swordfighting and mysterious relics that were abandoned after twenty pages.

Writing, then, I think was less about the output or end result and more about the creative process (or as much creative process exists in a twelve year old kid drawing maps for the fictious world of Ruhne-Fraux). I loved the idea of getting to build a world and create characters.

Even though this was super embarrassing in retrospect – I think of the time I could have been, like, playing soccer or studying – it was super important. I still love the process of diving into something creative, you know?


And then I was in college, where I continued to write even more. I was in too many clubs, and too many classes: I wrote essays for history and literature, design docs, emails, fake business proposals, more emails, articles for the school newspaper. It was a lot of writing, but none of that was my favorite.

But I also did a lot of creative writing (the curriculum’s term, not mine!) for classes – first it was Intro to Creative Writing, then Creative Writing, then Creative Poetry, then I think Advanced Creative Writing? The names aren’t entirely important, you get the idea. We wrote flash fiction and poetry. It feels sort of lame to talk about because I am the kind of person who feels inexplicable shame about his passions, but it was a lot of fun and very rewarding.

Even more than the mechanics, I liked having a part of me that wasn’t following the rational path – these classes were only one credit, so they didn’t really boost my GPA, they weren’t providing any diploma requirements, and they took up a bunch of time. But they were part of who I was.

I think, deep down, part of that was me clinging to a vestige of something: I may be wearing Ralph Lauren now, I may be in the business school now, I may be drinking Natty as I work on an Algorithms problem set, but I’m still a creative kid who likes to slam words against each other and see what happens.

I dug out (is it weird to say ‘dug out’ when I’m talking about my GMail inbox?) some of this stuff a couple weeks back, when I was looking for inspiration. I figured it would all be pretty bad, but at least some of it would be interesting.

It made me really, really happy. It also terrified me a little that I don’t think I could write like that ever again.


And now I’m here, in my apartment, in March of 2016, employed, busy, satisfied (or at least mostly satisfied), and I think to myself:

Why don’t I write more often?

The truth is, I am writing some things more than ever – I am writing emails to friends and colleagues and strangers, I am writing code in Java and Swift and Python. I am squirreling away my brain in inboxes and servers and internet forums, and I am mostly proud of my output.

But it feels like creative writing, the kind where I sit and think and write into a text file because I am trying to express something, has largely escaped me.

Maybe I’ve suffered the fate of Matilda, where I am now too afflicted with good things to worry for too long about creating some myself – that maybe the free time I spend watching and digesting The Americans, or reading Kafka on the Shore or SICP, or listening to a new jazz record gives me the same sense of fullness that creating something would.

Regardless of the reason, though, I’m not writing for pleasure very much. Even though 2016 was the year I wanted to start writing more often – just like 2015.

I still get ideas for things: fiction, poetry, blog posts – usually right as I’m about to go to bed. By morning they are gone, replaced by other things deemed more important or interesting.

Some of them, though, like this thing I’m writing right now, in March of 2016 in my apartment after having opened and closed iA Writer three times, stick to my brain like gum. And I think those are the ideas I need to worry about not writing.

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Justin Duke is a writer and developer in Seattle.
He likes good, practical things.
(And writing in the third person, I guess.)


@justinmduke
me@jmduke.com