Blissful Understanding


Alligators (Photo credit: Jombie9)

“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?

Writing samples

Writing samples (Photo credit: churl)

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.

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41 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Now you have me thinking, and yes, I do agree!

  2. I love the quote by Forester. Love to read your bits of wisdom Lou, always gets me thinking.

  3. Wrestling alligators, well how hard can that be. You’re either good at it or poof! Writing is hard and now you want me to think about it–can you tell I haven’t had a cup of tea today and I’m grumpy. I shall return when my grumps have left.

  4. I agree. I have learned through blogging to write, then read and reread. You have to put yourself in the reader’s position which is not always easy to do. I am always asking myself “Will my reader understand what I am trying to say?” and I think that is a difficult concept.

  5. I love blogging because I can see what I feel so I get your quotes in this post! Many times my writings give me a perspective that I didn’t know I had before! I like that you’ve given yourself topics 2 days a week! That’s a great idea!

  6. I hadn’t really thought it through, but yes. I have just finished a short story for something that involved some knowledge of the laws of physics (sounds like a gripping story right? Ha!). Anyway, my Neil was explaining some of the theories to me, and I was really struggling to get my head around it all, but I decided to just start writing the story and as I wrote, I started to understand, and it made sense. So yes, I guess that’s along the same sort of lines as you describe!

  7. Yes. I find that when I write I’m seeking clarity on whatever it is I’m writing about. My hope is that as I find clarity for myself, i give off a little light for someone else to go exploring…xoxoM

    • that is the ultimate goal of many writers–to make a difference–to help light the way just a little bit

      • Perhaps making a difference is the ultimate goal of people in general. We just all choose different tools. Just to mix it up a bit – thank goodness! 😉 xoxoM

      • I agree 🙂

  8. I think this is very true. Whenever I write creatively I’m always surprised by how much of my inner workings, my hidden self and psyche, come out on the paper. I think it’s true for everyone. As a mental health therapist maybe I’m looking more deeply, but I swear, our writing almost always reveals who we are. My husband is a writer and boy, did he unknowingly reveal things about himself over the years.

    I like the idea that less is more. I know that editing is often difficult for writers but I think when you pare your writing down you leave more room for the reader to add their own interpretation. Sometimes this is a very good thing. Not everything that tumbles from our creative brain is a jewel, a nugget of gold, (I should know, my writing is riddled with lumps of coal!!) though some authors have a hard time parting with their words.
    Great post, LouAnn!!!

    • thank you Lisa – yes editing is a hard process — sometimes I have to do it for word count –but it is an exercise in paring down to essentials–I think that is why I find writing fiction difficult

  9. I disagree. Writing for me has nothing to do with understanding. In fact I do not understand why I write at all. As for writing being a harder job than wrestling alligators, it’s still quite a bit easier than digging ditches – or wrestling alligators.

    • I don’t know – sometimes I find physical labour a good outlet–though I have never wrestled gators

      • Yeah, me too. I generally leave the gators alone.

      • that is a good thing

  10. You always get me into a contemplation mood my friend thank you for your wisdom 🙂

    Choc Chip Uru

    • started reading your history lesson today– have to go back and finish it — I learn from you too

  11. Yes, understanding is one of my reasons to write. I’ve enjoyed your recipes. I’d post more, but when I take the pictures they never look good and I think, “Why would anybody want to make that?”

  12. Yes. To understand myself; to have others understand me, to have that immortal thing out there forever.

  13. What a great way to sum up writing! And that’s definitely how I see writing in my life as well. It also makes for a good record to go back to and see how different things are now than they were then. I tend to write in a stream-of-conscious mode and once I finish, I often find that my state of mind is a lot different than what it was when I started out. Understanding at its best, I think. 😉

  14. I not only want to understand–but also to help others understand. Somehow I want to flip the words in the Lewis quote. Maybe to something something like this:

    We write first in order to understand; and then to be understood.

  15. I LOVE that first quote! 🙂


  16. Seems Cecil Day Lewis did a little borrowing from the Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi – […grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand;…]

    Meaningful communication is my goal. Like wrestling alligators?…Yes!

  17. i agree-sometimes it’s like a free for all in my head and until some kind of order is restored i have no idea what i’m trying to write.

  18. I like your quotes! I find that writing is sometimes effortless and sometimes much harder…not sure of what that may say of quality of the final product! And I’m not sure it says anything about the subject or the writing, or my feelings about the subject. Sometimes I sit down and the words just flow out of me. And sometimes not. What makes the difference? Of course, if you’re having to learn about a subject to write about it…that’s a different thing. I suppose I’m talking more about the writing that I do from my heart…expressing a personal point of view. Still, any type of writing can be real work. And only someone who hasn’t tried to do it would think differently! ~ Sheila

    PS…I prefer writing to the alligators…no reptiles for me!

    • I prefer writing to reptiles too — though wrangling words can sometimes be as hard as wrestling gators

  19. […] Blissful Understanding ( […]

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