Language is fundamental to the way we perceive the world, process information, and learn. Without language, the advancement of humanity would have crawled: Every subsequent generation would have to relearn everything the previous generation had. Language allows the cross-generational propagation of knowledge. It's the foundation of advanced technology and art, but we often forget its very nature, lost in a maze of usage and preconceptions below our awareness.
Language is misrepresentation at its finest. When you write, you attempt to put something entirely intangible into a series of inaccurate, despicably slippery mouth-shapings and throat-rattlings that often succeed in nothing more than confusing the reader or leaving her with the wrong impression entirely. We invest so much time in learning how our language works that we forget the most instrumental part of communication: The listener's situation! We are so caught up in being clear, concise, correct, that we forget to bother with the reader at all. We self-indulge and forget that what we are writing is supposed to evoke some reaction from the reader, who, counter to our basic urges, is not exactly like us. (And I haven't even touched upon the failings of language within itself!)
Whenever we write, we're failing to communicate in a wide and often unfathomable variety of ways. Good writing simply allows the reader to enjoy our failures--We should aim not to succeed, but to fail as gracefully and gallantly as possible.
Where do you start writing? Where your mind takes you. The best things I’ve written come out when I let my mind work free of the jack-ass backseat driving. When I turn my obnoxiously loud inner voice and inner filter off and let the words happen of their own volition: That’s when things become solid in my writing. They form as I write them. Even when I have no idea what’s going on, the sculpture’s there–the clay is waiting for my hands to shape it later. As long as I give myself enough clay I find that the shaping always yields at worst workable, usually satsifactory results.
I write almost all my poetry in the above fashion. But is the writing process different in prose than poetry? Can you write good prose blank-minded, open-willed, unconsciously? Why yes, you can. That’s what I’m doing right now. You have to accept the words as they come and trust yourself. Really trust yourself. When you start blocking and worrying you will see the words come slower, and when you release yourself from that inner filter that stops you from shouting “god dammit” at the top of your lungs in the supermarket, you can just feel the words coming through you, from willing fingers onto the screen. It’s easy. It’s too easy.
But all great works come with severe thought, you may say. Who ever said that severe thought has to come first though? Revising allows us to apply severe thought to the clay that we were barely able to shape as we were spinning the potter’s wheel. The sculptor starts by making a frame of what he wants, then filling in the details, not by starting to craft each strand of hair, every minute detail, minutiae by minutiae, second by second.
Once you overcome the wall of limitation that you naturally impose on yourself, you can write any time. As you grow more comfortable with releasing yourself to your quiet consciousness, you will notice that your writing has a newer, better shape–it’s you. It’s your voice, front and center, and it’s sincere, good writing.
Remember: You add the fine features to the sculpture after you’ve formed the frame. Otherwise, you’re stuck.
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