Hawking Up Hairballs

Monday, August 29, 2005

On Writing

In many ways, writing is like hitting a baseball. Sometimes you're on a hot streak, the ball looks as big as a basketball, and you're tearing the hide off of it. Other times, you hit a cold spell, the ball looks like a BB, and you're swinging like the proverbial rusty gate. As in baseball too, the only solution to these slumps is to sit down and work your way through them.

Hot streaks are what we all want though, and I can always tell when I'm on one. I am normally an excellent speller. However, over the years, I have noticed that when I am on a roll with my writing that I tend to misspell words. Not just any words though. Instead I will write a sound-alike word for the one I really want. For example, "there" when I meant "their". I suppose that one could say that this means the right brain is kicking in, though the whole right brain/left brain thing is overstated if recent research is to be believed. I tend to think that it's more the case that writing is primarily something verbal for me. When I'm going well, I fall into the rhythms of the spoken word and, from the point of view of the spoken word, "their" and "there" are exactly the same.

There are indubitably cold spells in writing, but I find that they don't last long and aren't hard to break through. For me, the really nasty ones turn out to be psychological problems, not writing problems. In the back of my mind, I may be thinking that no matter how hard I work on my novel, I won't get it published, or I may just find the enormity of the task as overwhelming. Sometimes those ways of thinking can be damned difficult to overcome and there's no question that they affect the writing.

Of course, one solution is to take the stance that you're mainly writing for yourself, but that's just bullshit rationalization. Those who are writing for themselves don't show it to others. The fact of the matter is that we who take writing seriously are obsessed with communicating with others. We have a vision that we're trying to get across. I've always felt that the difference between writing for oneself and writing for an audience is like the difference between masturbating and making love.

Anais Nin said that there's no such thing as writer's block and, in the sense that she means it, I agree with her. It was her contention that when a writer was blocked, he wasn't listening to his unconscious. There's no doubt about that in my mind, but that knowledge doesn't solve the practical problem. If you're in the middle of writing a novel, it's got a logic and a flow of its own. You have to follow that logic and its flow. Most times, if you go off on some wild tangent, you end up getting lost. I know, because I've done it.

All that said, there's nothing I'd rather be doing than writing. It sure as hell beats software engineering, which I spent too many years doing.

I was going to write a comment about the public debate over whether intelligent design should be taught alongside evolution in science classes but, in yesterday's NY Times, Daniel Dennett wrote a piece that addressed the issue a lot better than I could. I recommend it. You have to register to read the Times online, but it's free.


Blogger David Matthews said...

Interesting about the research indicating the right brain stuff might be overstated. I've wondered if that might be the case.

While I might quibble at the edges, I'm pretty much with you on writing for oneself vs. writing for an audience. I think elements of both are at work, but I've come to realize I really do care about an audience. Not just any audience, of course.

I'll second your recommendation of the Dennett essay in the Times.

11:21 PM  

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