It is Sunday afternoon and I am drinking tea. Just sitting down to write. When I write, the topic has usually been made clear to me earlier in the day, or perhaps the day before.
But not today. These writing sessions are always the most interesting, because of a few reasons.
As you start, you have no idea what’s going to come out of your fingers. But you don’t want to go on with meaningless ramblings, so you force yourself to enter into a sort of flow state very quickly. You get better at it with practice.
Two days ago I stumbled upon a thread on Quora about writing advice. Someone said that you should never write about things you thought up beforehand. Everything you write should be in-the-moment writing, because everything that isn’t is a fabrication of ego.
First, I disagree with the use of the word ego, but I know what he means and I understand what he’s saying. I don’t agree though. All writing isn’t made equal.
There’s the story of a famous author I forget the name of, who said he wrote in his head while on the bus to school. When he got to the school he only had two minutes to get it all out on paper before class started. He wrote three books that way.
Secondly, even “pre-determined” writing almost never happens in isolation. I can’t recall a single writing session where I’ve started knowing everything I wanted to say, and having the on-paper version being a carbon copy of what was in my head. That doesn’t happen. I might start with 20% of the equation and then I make the rest up as I go along. I know this. I wouldn’t abandon the whole idea just because I thought of it before I started writing. I know most of what I write will be just as interesting to me as I hope it will be for the reader. I’m sitting here, writing, drinking tea, and eagerly anticipating the next couple of words to come out of my fingers.
This is what it’s like when you’re doing something in the moment, not looking back and not thinking ahead. When I am engaged in conversation, I’m just as curious about what I’m going to say as the other person. I invariably know me better than the other person, so I’m usually more excited to hear what I have to say than the other person. If you’re in a seminar room and your favorite speaker comes on stage, you’ll listen more carefully. When someone you’ve never heard of comes up, you might be interested, but it just isn’t the same. It’s sort of like that, whether I’m writing or talking or whatever else I’m doing.
Third, I think that usually, what you have in your head just needs to come out. If it doesn’t, there’ll be no room for new ideas.
I think the Quora guy might have a good point if you’re a poet or something like that. As someone who makes a living from my creativity, it doesn’t really apply. If I’m working on a client project, or something that I’m working on, I’m writing headlines in my head all day long.
It might not come out or crystallize itself just right until I’m actually in a writing session and I enter into this weird sort of flow state, but all of the groundwork is laid out in the almost obsessive-like thinking and “writing in your head” work done around the clock.
Even if you’re employed as a writer in a 9 to 5 gig, a writer never stops working. A marketer never stops working. An artist never stops working. If you’re a factory worker, sure, maybe. If you’re involved in expressing anything, of any kind of creative process then you don’t ever stop working.
The point about writing in your head, from two paragraphs above this one, is really important. You might come up with something absolutely brilliant in 30 minutes of creative glory. Most people only see those 30 minutes of brilliance, and not the days and weeks, maybe months and years of “internal” work before it finally bubbled to the surface. It’s like how most “overnight” success stories became successful overnight after a decade of hard work.
When you see a wave show its face at the horizon and roll towards you and finally crash upon the shore, it appears that you have just witnessed the entire lifecycle of the wave. From birth to death. But the wave didn’t really start at the horizon, and it didn’t really end at the shore. What is the wave? Where does the ocean end and become a wave? It doesn’t. The wave is the ocean and the ocean is the wave. The wave started where the ocean started and ends where the ocean ends. You could trace that wave through billions of years of climate changes and astronomical shifts and rotations of the moon and I’m sure a whole lot of other things.
So it is with writing, with creativity, with success. My first post on my blog was called “How change happens” and it illustrates this broader dynamic of how things can work. Things never happen in isolation. You witness an event and it’s like a domino brick falling on top of another. It too collapses and falls on the next one. One brick caused the next to fall, and most people isolate that sequence of events as “cause and effect” - but there’s always the next brick, and the next one after that.
OK. This has gone for almost a thousand words and from drinking tea and not knowing what to say, to talking about waves and creative cycles. I think I’ve said what I had to say. I hope you see how this very post is a demonstration of the things I talk about in this post.
I shall end this by once again citing one of my favorite quotes...
“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”