Wednesday, May 16, 2012

On Writing

“Writing is a tool that enables people in every discipline to wrestle with facts and ideas. It’s a physical activity, unlike reading. Writing requires us to operate some kind of mechanism—pencil, pen, typewriter, word processor—for getting our thoughts on paper. It compels us by the repeated effort of language to go after those thoughts and to organize them and present them clearly. It forces us to keep asking, ‘Am I saying what I want to say?’ Very often the answer is ‘No.’ It’s a useful piece of information.”[1]
We have all been told that writing is a process, but I am just now learning what that means. My experience with writing has, I’ll admit, been one of random light bulb moments. Ideas come to me while driving, hiking, or sometimes even in dreams. Whole poems have come to me in dreams—I wake up just in time to remember and write them down. My relationship to writing has been one where I have felt more like the vessel through which some other voice speaks and I simply transcribe. To become aware of this was a major break through moment for me because it gave me clarity as to why my relationship to writing has often felt so troubled, painful and difficult.
I have deliberately been working to change my relationship to writing—instead of always thinking about a finished product, I am learning to embrace the journey. This is a journey that I enter with intention. And my intention is not simply to be done with the dissertation; it is to give myself permission to explore. I realized that I have been afraid of the journey. I have been afraid to write a sentence that didn’t quite make the point on paper the way I heard it in my head or felt it in my heart. 
As I entered the writing stage of the dissertation, I created a writing schedule that was difficult to maintain because I didn’t know how to engage writing with discipline or with patience—I wanted the dissertation to appear to me in a dream. I have never fully taken the time to cultivate my relationship to my own voice as a writer because I have been holding on to the idea that my ideas come from some elsewhere. I do believe in that elsewhere, but that elsewhere isn’t so far away. It is in me, I just have to learn how to access it. This takes practice, persistence, and patience. This change in my consciousness has motivated me and even given me more confidence in my capacity to write and think.
I am handing in the dissertation introduction to my advisor tomorrow and I feel good about it. I’m not worried about the things that I didn’t say or the arguments that aren’t as clear as I’d like them to be. This is a process, a journey and it takes time. Yesterday I woke up anxious to return to the problem I had written myself into the day before—that was new and exciting for me.
In my research, I’m obsessed with darkness, shadows, the spaces that are difficult to find, the spaces that many mark as dead—but I know life, beautiful life can exist there. Writing is a kind of darkness for me and I’m putting my money where my mouth is by playing in that darkness. I remind you, and myself “If the process is sound, the product will take care of itself.”[2]
What is your relationship to writing? What is your writing schedule like? What are the tools you use to make yourself a better writer? I would really love to hear back from you regarding your own process. Let’s share our knowledge and grow together:-)

[1] William Zinsser, Writing To Learn (Harper Perennial, 1993), 49.
[2] Ibid., 16.


  1. The figure of the darkness in your process of writing really gets me thinking. Instead of a blank white canvass, a non-space waiting for the mark of the particular brush stroke, the space of writing here is a struggle embedded in a context of power. it does away with the old and tired water metaphor of writing ("flow" and "blockage") which is often quite paralyzing. thanks for this

  2. It's funny you mention darkness. I was getting some good work done yesterday (my 1st chapter's due this Friday) and it occurred to me that what I was synthesizing were pieces of my subconscious. I think now that thinking is so very complicated a process that we can only hold a few linkages 'up front' at a time. Thus writing becomes of record, an artist's rendering, of the sensations, the deep knowledge,that emerge from the darkness, that we would otherwise loose without this beautiful means of capture. It is exquisite, it think.