Why You Should Search for Struggle
Struggling is uncomfortable. Why would anyone want to look for it? Well, sometimes, that isn’t the point.
Sometime in 2021, I was assigned to write six articles. They varied from 900 to 1,800 words. It was around 10,000 words combined. I received the assignment on Tuesday and had until Sunday night to finish it.
It was my usual working schedule at that time, so it didn’t bother me. But I also had to write it using software I’d never heard of. That bothered me.
If you want to talk about struggle, well, what followed was it for me.
The Struggle with the Software
To help you understand, let me first explain what the software did.
It was a tool that told you how optimized your article was for keywords. If you didn’t mention a certain word (i.e. a keyword) enough times, it would tell you that you’re a disgrace of a writer and that you should give up.
Well, actually it didn’t say that; It just indicated how optimized your article was from a scale of 1% to 100% relative to similar articles online — but it felt a little more spiteful than that.
Anyway, back to the story.
The Struggle That Followed
Writing with keywords feels like how I imagine doing a slalom race would be.
You take your sentences and paragraphs then weave them through keywords as gracefully as you can to make the piece sound as natural as possible, despite its very technical anatomy.
At least, that was the idea. I’ve never gone skiing. And up until that point, I had never written with keywords. So, it was all new to me.
Naturally, I was stressing out more than what was required.
My schedule following the day I received the assignment to the Sunday it was due was a mix of panic, writing a few thousand words, then panic (reprise).
I learned a lot about the writing process during that time. I learned that It’s as much of a mental melee as it is a physical action. While you smash the keys, you’re also making sure that what you’re writing is both logical and excellent.
So my mind was split. It was like a chameleon’s eyes: a pair with two focuses.
One part of my head kept its attention trained on writing well (which had its own difficulties). The other tried to balance the optimization of the article and its readability to a human. It took a lot out of me. But I wanted it over with, so I kept going. (It was my job, after all.)
I wrote and rewrote, then read and reread my own words. Finally, after pushing myself to write as best as I could, I finished and submitted all 10,000 words at 10 PM on Sunday. I was proud of that.
I leaned back in my chair in relief. I had just gone through my most difficult writing assignment. It was glorious.
For a few minutes.
Some moments after submitting the six articles, my creative director — whom I worked directly under — got back to me. They said it wasn’t good enough.
The Struggle That Came Back
I had misunderstood something.
I wasn’t just supposed to reach past some given keyword optimization percentage. There was an expected percentage — one that was mentioned in a brief that was given to me before writing. I had read it, but, clearly, not well enough.
They expected the articles to be optimized to around 75% to 90%. What I had submitted was around 30% to 50% optimized. I was devastated.
It meant I had to rewrite a significant part of each of the six articles. While I could’ve easily brushed it off, when you’re exhausted, even a little more work feels agonizing.
I felt horrible. I got that feeling you get when you know you’ve just made an easily avoidable mistake, the kind that you know nine out of ten people wouldn’t have made, but you just had to be so unique to make it.
I was graciously given an extension after that. Then I spent the entirety of the following Monday reworking the articles to fit the actual guidelines. Although that was a much better experience, I received the next set of articles to write on that Monday too.
So as I wrapped up the first 10,000 words, I took a small break, then got to writing the next 10,000.
I thought the following weeks of work would be worse — but I was surprised to discover they weren’t.
The Struggle That Taught Me
Things felt much easier after that. Work that once overwhelmed me didn’t seem very overwhelming anymore. Just like with the articles I had to write, I had misunderstood something else.
I had a tough time writing those articles. It was difficult. But it’s important that it was. When I review the moments where I grew the most in the past few years, that experience stands out. I can say confidently that I’m a better writer (and reader-of-briefs) now because of it.
I realized that just because something is hard doesn’t make the experience bad. It’s frustrating and exhausting (that’s for damn sure) but that isn’t the point.
Struggle is an indicator of growth in progress. If you aren’t struggling — really testing what you can do — you aren’t growing as much as you think.
David Bowie has a quote related to this idea which I think will be a nice way to conclude here.
The Struggle to Dislike What David Bowie Said
In 1997, there was a documentary called Inspirations directed by Michael Apted.
I’ve seen one clip.
It was an interview with David Bowie about being creative. While he was talking about how artists end up creating their best work, Bowie said this:
“If you feel safe in the area that you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth; and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”
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