“We do not write to be understood. We write in order to understand.” ~ Cecil Day Lewis
These words tell the whole story for me. Writing if done correctly is not easy. According to Willliam Sarovan, “Writing is the hardest way of earning a living with the possible exception of wrestling alligators.” Mr. Sarovan knows whereof he speaks.
Like any other exercise, and I call writing an exercise, as it uses the “muscles” of the brain, one must persevere in order to get results. Our muscles develop over time and help us with the heavy lifting of expressing ourselves, and in that expression, understanding ourselves.
Often, when I do my workaday writing, which is reporting on what goes on in municipal politics, I find I need to understand the topic I am writing about before I am able to write an article. Sometimes when I am confused, I start with the end in the mind–what the decision was that was made at council, and then work my way back through the story to get to why that decision was made. What went into it? By starting at the end and working back, I find a way to understand the topic. And of course, if there is any question in my mind, I use my due diligence and ask some more questions.
When I write more creatively, I find that much of what I write ends up on the proverbial cutting room floor. When I was in school decades ago, and we edited film, we actually cut out the parts we did not want–until then I did not realize how true to life that expression was. When you write and edit, more often than not, you just delete–but by writing and deleting, and then finally coming up with a product you are somewhat pleased with, you come to an understanding. You delete the things which did not add to the “understanding” and keep the things that seemed to clarify it.
One of my favorite quotes, and one I have used before is that of E.M. Forester who said quite brilliantly, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” I am of the same mind. When the words from my brain are tapped out by my fingers, there is a process there–a process of pre-editing–of things that were formed in my mind, chewed up, and spat on the page in a form that is pliable.
The quotes that I have used in this post are from Dinty W. Moore’s book, “The Mindful Writer”, and he has his own take on them, which he admits has a bit of a “Buddhist approach”, or mindfulness. He says though that his writing actually opened his mind to mindfulness and nonattachment, rather than it informing his writing. He says that writing “is not explaining” nor the “mere description of an idea.” Rather, “to write requires learning, discovering, examining and interrogating.” He believes that “writing is the process of putting down words, then stepping back, considering those words, trying to understand them.”
Do you agree with Moore? Is understanding one of the goals of your writing bliss?
Note to my readers: I have Recipe Saturday, and now Writing Wednesday–so those are two things you can depend upon — I am finding a little calm in the chaos by assigning myself topics.