Daily Archives: May 22, 2004

On Writing

Why is that writers — and it doesn’t matter which writer you choose — at some point in their chosen vocation end up writing about writing? And why do non-writers see that as so unusual, so self-centered and ultimately circular? You don’t question a saint immersed in their version of divinity that can only talk rationally (well, can talk at any rate) about God. LIkewise, philosophers love nothing better than to talk, discourse, put to paper in thousand-page tomes, those thoughts that ellucidate their love of knowledge. Granted, in all these cases, the conversation is limited by the frame-of-reference of the listener on one side, and more importantly, by the frame-of-reference of the speaker or writer on the other side. Writers write about writing because that’s who they are, that is their morphology, their modus operandi. Project managers look at things from the framework, the guidelines, of project management — efficiency, elimination of redundant information, structure and reporting relationships — as a tool to hone their own basis for evaluating life in terms of budget, schedule and quality. Of all the great characters of Fiction, most if not writers themselves of Poetry or Fiction to some degree, at least are prodigious letter writers. They have a need, or rather, the writer creating them, has a need to extend their own meager gitts into tangential relationship with a world that is more or less under their control. Granted, if you ascribe to the belief that all life is pre-ordained, that we choose our parents, our upbringing, our vocation and ultimately our destination, it’s as if the book has already been written — but there is no skipping ahead chapters, or skimming through to the end to see what happens, in the book of life. We are fated, if by nothing else, to the turning of pages one at a time, chapter by chapter, one single word lain in line with a countless stream of those that have come before, and those that will follow.

In that sense, I suppose, the writer, over all other occupations save for the marytr or saint, has a more distinct advantage to many others. A painter, for example, who tries to talk about painting using painting itself is likely to be swamped in a surreal, imagist, dada world that contains a dangerous degree of self-similarity. Likewise, the Musician, who tries to convey their thoughts about Music in the idiom of Music must limit themselves to communicating in this way to those who are also Musicians, and actually, that are Musicians of the same order as themselves. The saint has a more direct line of approach, in that particularly in the monotheistic traditions, there are only two goals at the outset of the path — to become a saint, like themselves, or a minister. To do, or to preach. All other positions are like half-way houses on the road to salvation, and are not among the prescribed courses outlined so nebulously in their Great Books. There is no place in the structure of religion for those who require others to cajole them into action. The very act of salvation demands much more of the indiividual that passive participation. The writer, like the saint, relies upon something greater than themselves to prove their point for them — and in both cases, it is the Word.

So much is determined by the words we experience during our childhood, during early education, in the books we read (or don’t read). To not have a word for something is to exclude that concept from your worldview. Because to live life, you’ve got to read from the Book of Life — except this book has not yet been written, so far as you know, because you are only capable of glimpsing perhaps a paragraph or two ahead. Most of the text is hidden, by the page you’ve just flipped past, or by the unknown vast number of pages yet to be turned.

The different between the saint and the writer, then, is that sense of co-creation. The saint waits patiently for the next page to be revealed by the Author to which they owe allegiance, devote their lives to the understanding of. The writer, on the other hand, sees the next page as a challenge that must be shaped, crafted; not reliant upon an external source to provide the entertainment, the knowledge, the insight and character development. Writing, then, is a pagan religion. It is about power-with, not power-over.

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