03.24.08

Why I Love My Writings

Posted in Ethics, Personal Development at 9:21 am by Haider

Judging from the title of this post, you might jump to the conclusion that this post is for me to boast about how great my writing is. But the issue I would like to raise here is the importance of valuing your own work, which isn’t something useful to have, but a necessity for any creative or productive work.

The first critic you always encounter is yourself. You are the one who judges your work as you are doing it and the first one to judge it after you complete it. You get to decide whether to share it with others and who to share it with. Your opinion about your work is of prime importance. It cannot be ignored or undermined.

However, we are usually taught that arrogance and pride are sins, and that they are the worst forms of evil. Satan was arrogant, so don’t follow in his footsteps. We are, therefore, afraid to acknowledge or even look for value in our work, for fear that we may feel a sense of pride in what we have accomplished. We immediately search for faults and force ourselves to admit that what we have done isn’t worthy of acknowledgement. We are often afraid to share our work with others because of how terrible we think it is, and don’t wish to be told that it’s worse than we think.

Some people, fearing that they might be struck by the evil of arrogance, dismiss their own opinion, but search for others who might grace them with compliments, which they will humbly deny. “Thank you, but it really isn’t great. It contains so many mistakes. How do you think I should improve it?” They denounce their own opinions, but willingly accept the opinions of others, not because they are more observant, but because they are others. For one to value his own work is a sin, as we’ve been told.

Unfinished Work

Many aspiring artists give up on their work because they are too critical of what they produce. They cannot complete a sentence out of fear that it will not be perfect, and when they complete it, they cross it out because it didn’t turn out perfect. They only search for faults, and kick themselves whenever they find them. They think their first piece of work should be a masterpiece, and if it isn’t there’s no use in moving on. A fault should be overcome. Anything short of perfection is not worth completing or publishing.

Accepting Imperfectionย 

I wanted to start this blog over two years ago, but I wanted to get the introduction to the blog perfect that I spent over a year trying to get it right, and wasted most of that time not wanting to think about the blog or working on it, out of fear that I will encounter more obstacles, and add to my string of failures.

The fact that I’ve been posting a lot on my blog lately isn’t a sign that I think my work is perfect, but that I acknowledge it isn’t. However, this will not stop me from writing. The only way I can improve my writing is to practice. As Mike Litman would say: “Don’t get it perfect, get it going.

I could go on and on about the faults in my own writings. For one thing, my poems usually rhyme, but don’t have a meter. You would have to read each line differently (stressing on different syllables) in order to get the poem to scan properly. I admit this, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t write poetry unless I overcome my shortcomings. I will work on them as I write.

For any creative work, you must accept that you need to learn new things and acquire new skills. This will not happen if you expect every work you do to be perfect, regardless of your experience. The less you know and do the more mistakes you can excuse.

Judging Fairly

When you come to judge your work, you should do so fairly. This means that you acknowledge the negatives, as well as the positives. If you wish to produce something, it should be of value to yourself, and those you share it with. If you only see it as something negative, and this is the only thing you look for, then why do you even try producing it? Why would you want to share it with others?

Although many writers and speakers will accept compliments with humility, and will be quick to turn your attention to the negatives in their work (often before you even look at the work yourself!), their humility is fake. They either know their work is of some value, but want someone else to say that it is, or they have no way of determining whether their work is of any value or not, in which case their humility is out of ignorance. If somebody sees no value in his work, he should reconsider sharing it with others, rather than pretend to be humble.

Taking pride in one’s work isn’t a vice. One should be proud for having accomplished a piece of work, and should be proud of the merits it contains. Pride becomes a vice when it blinds someone from seeing his work objectively. When someone likes his work because he did it, then his pride is a sin. He is attaching to his work more value than it deserves.

Of course, he should be proud for accomplishing his work, but he should not assess it based on who did it. “It’s my work, therefore, it’s great.”

I don’t value my work because I did it, but value it because of the value I see in it, for me and for others.

The Writer and the Reader

Some people think that a writer is only a writer, and his readers are only readers. However, a writer is also a reader. He doesn’t simply write for others to read, but he writes to produce something he would enjoy reading as well. Writers don’t usually write to suit the tastes of others, but to suit their own taste, and their readership consists of those who share their taste.

I don’t simply enjoy writing. I enjoy reading. I look for writings that either express the values that I cherish, or reason in a way that I admire or write in a style that I enjoy reading. I look for writers who have these qualities. But nobody can have the exact same values that I do, or reason in the same way that I do apart from myself. There are other writers who can express themselves better, or who can introduce me to new ways of reasoning or values that I haven’t considered. Their writings may be more rewarding to read for me than my own writings. But this doesn’t ignore the fact that my writings are written according to what I would enjoy reading.

It’s possible that I may write in a way that suits my audience. After all, if I’m communicating with others, I should know the best way to communicate with them. If people don’t have the patience to read a long article, I should try to condense my writings in shorter articles. If people don’t share my values, I should present them in a way they will be understood, and deal with the misconceptions they might hold about my own opinions. To change the way in which I present my ideas, or address my views according to the thinking of my audience, doesn’t mean that I will not be enjoying my work. I would enjoy it because I’ve invested in knowing more about my audience, rather than publishing the ideas I should only share with myself. My writings, given my audience, would reveal what I know about my audience, and how I was able to change the style so that it fits the right audience. In terms of communication, this is how writing should be approached. As a creative form of expression, I am considering my audience a factor in my work. Just as a painter would choose different colours to create different moods, a writer must choose the right words to convey his ideas. This selection takes into account the audience that will receive his work. He doesn’t compromise his ideas or his values, but changes the presentation to match the audience.

My Writings and I

Apart from what I already said about writers in general, I take particular interest in my own writings because the vast majority of Muslim writers don’t share my values or my reasoning or my style. Their priorities are different to mine and their understanding of Islam is different to mine. They jump to conclusions or base their opinions on assumptions. They often speak down to others, or mock other opinions rather than analyse them.

For this reason I usually find relief in my own writings. I want to read about Islam and other issues the way I see them. I want to be able to read my thoughts rather than have them floating in my head.

This isn’t to say that I wouldn’t read anything I disagree with, but if a writer expresses values you disagree with, you would at least expect him to present his reasoning in a rational manner. If the writing lacks reasoning and expresses values you disagree with, then you’re not enjoying what you read as much as trying to learn something new. You wouldn’t say you loved what you read. You can only love something that you share a common value with.

Finally..

I would suggest to any aspiring writer or artist to recognize what he values in the works of others and in his own work, and to continue improving his skills so that they reveal more of the qualities they value. You shouldn’t be disheartened simply because your work isn’t perfect. Don’t expect it to be, especially if you are still learning.

Enjoy producing your work and appreciate what you produce..

11 Comments »

  1. Ralf Wilmes said,

    March 24, 2008 at 9:04 pm

    yes indeed Haider. Writing is liberating and clear up one’s head. Putting thoughts into structured writing, there’s definitely magic in that so to speak.
    โ€œDonโ€™t get it perfect, get it going.โ€ Love that one.
    Cheers
    Ralf

  2. Haider said,

    March 25, 2008 at 9:29 am

    Ralf, I’m glad you liked the article. Being a perfectionist, I struggled to apply the “don’t get it perfect, get it going” idea, but soon realized that it’s the only way to get work done. Most “perfect” works don’t see the light of day.

  3. Bashar said,

    March 25, 2008 at 9:48 am

    Well Haider, I never thought before I would do writing, or that amount of reading as well. But seeing the value of reading made me love it, coming across too many valuable things makes me want to share them, and give my insight as well. This is how it went

    As for accepting Imperfection, I think it’s absolutely correct. I once came across a sentence in game programming book saying what means no matter how bad you find your idea is, finish it, deliver it. By that, you will know where you went wrong, learn from it, and can do better next time. On the other hand, if you stopped, you will create that kind of virtual border where you will reach next time, and stop from fear and fail. Ironically I didn’t even finish that book, but I took his advise on other stuff I am working on ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Haider said,

    March 25, 2008 at 11:05 am

    Bashar, I actually began writing because I wanted to resolve the thoughts in my head. Most of my early writings were addressed to me, and for my eyes only. Although others can benefit from them, my intention wasn’t to share them with others. But I developed my thoughts the more I wrote, and I improved my communication skills at the same time..

    That’s how it went for me ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. mohammad alkazemi said,

    March 26, 2008 at 5:07 am

    Salaam
    Frankly I did not read this post completely but just as a brief annotation I would like to present you this Hadeeth.
    The holy prophet has said ” ู…ู† ุณุฑุชู‡ ุญุณู†ุชู‡ ูˆุณุงุฆุชู‡ ุณูŠุฆุชู‡ ูู‡ูˆ ู…ุคู…ู†”. ” Whomever feels joy through his good deeds and agony through his evil acts is truly a believer” Excuse my translation it was hastily done.

  6. Haider said,

    March 26, 2008 at 6:52 am

    Salaam Mohammad, thank you for the hadith. I can always count on you for this! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Your translation is good, actually.. At least you didn’t include “strawberry material” like our dear “GroupX” ๐Ÿ˜›

  7. Bashar said,

    March 26, 2008 at 8:49 am

    mohammad alkazemi: “Frankly I did not read this post completely”, Apparently, no one does read the whole post ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Haider said,

    March 26, 2008 at 9:07 am

    Bashar, point taken ๐Ÿ˜›

  9. mohammad alkazemi said,

    March 26, 2008 at 1:09 pm

    Salaam
    Please don’t remind me, it took me several minutes to decipher the code in the first few sentences of their group intro. After I was done I discovered it was written in ancient Cuneiform.

  10. Computerchi said,

    March 30, 2008 at 10:53 pm

    Man! That was so good. Very liberating too.

    I am one of those people who take a lot of pride in what they produce. I talk about it to others. I get excited about it. I write about what I produce, I call it documentation. But, most sinfully delightful to me is to gaze at what I have produced for a while with a grin on my face. Simply, bask in my own glory. That is until guilt sets in.

    ุณูŠุฆุฉ ุชุณูŠุฆูƒ ุฎูŠุฑ ู…ู† ุญุณู†ุฉ ุชุนุฌุจูƒ

    As Imam Ali (as) said, warning of getting in love with your own work. Apparently, cursed Iblees was in love with his worship to God that he valued it higher than the work of the almighty himself.

    Practically at the work place, if you do not document your work, it is as good as not having done it at all. Presenting your work to others helps share the knowledge and communicate the value to the team. It also increases the momentum for others to follow suit.

    I like the distinction you make about being proud of your work for the value it adds, not because it is produced by you only.

    If you love your own writing, that makes the two of us.

    P.S. I read the entire post. Well written but maybe judging by the feedback of others, you may want to be a bit more concise. I suggest that you set yourself a word limit. If the post goes beyond, then maybe it is worth doing it in two parts.

  11. Haider said,

    March 31, 2008 at 11:44 am

    Computerchi, the message of this post is that you shouldn’t feel guilty for “basking in your own glory.” Accomplishment should feel rewarding.

    Now, you’ve raised a concern about falling in love with your work, which I wish to address. I can’t present the full reasoning behind how I interpret the narration you mentioned, but will give a simple approach to take (I will, God-willing, cover the topic more fully in the Understanding Islam articles).

    Before you can act on any narration, it is necessary to determine the context of the saying, and what is being referred to.

    For example, suppose you came to me boasting about how great of a job you did, even though you didn’t do the job yourself. if I tell you “don’t boast,” I could mean that boasting is bad, or that you shouldn’t boast about the work because I know you didn’t do it.

    Alternatively, I may discourage boasting because you may have been boasting about a great project you did 5 years ago, and you are still referring to it, even though you are not repeating the same achievement.

    Therefore, it’s difficult to make what’s meant from the narration when reading it on its own (and mohammad al-kazemi has mentioned another narration with a conflicting meaning, which indicates that the issue is more complicated than what we think).

    The narration aside, what do you think could be wrong with feeling proud over what you have accomplished? As I have explained, it is necessary to enjoy your achievements. Where it can backfire is when you enjoy looking at your work, but don’t move on to produce more of it. This is where it leads to stagnation.

    If you think more about this issue, you’ll realise that there are several dangers to loving your work, not because loving your work is intrinsically evil or immoral, but because it can stunt our growth.

    Back to the narration, a possible interpretation of it could be that a sin that makes you feel guilt that fuels motivation to improve is better than a good deed that makes you feel content about yourself, and leads you to neglect your development. A sin that leads you to despair and hopelessness isn’t beneficial, and I don’t think it’s the type of sin that Imam Ali (peace be on him) was referring to.

    As for Satan, pride was not his sin (I don’t think pride, as such, is a sin). We must realise that the work we do is not a reflection of our character if it’s not done regularly and for the right reasons. Satan became fixated with how great his worship was, but it terminated. It reached a certain point, and he then said: “I will not do that.” This revealed his character and his intentions. He began boasting about what he has done in the past, at the point where it no longer was a reflection of his character.

    There’s more to the issue than what I have covered, but I don’t think the glory you feel can be equated to Satan’s sin, or is referred to by Imam Ali.

    I’ll leave you now to get back to basking in your glory ๐Ÿ˜›

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