A Brief Musing
When to write? Where to write? What to write? How to write? These four simple questions prompt enough complexity in their answers to fill articles and magazines, books and libraries. They stimulate enough interest and mental energy to fuel casual discussions and writers’ groups, conferences and university courses. They hint at profound mysteries and hidden wisdom, the potential for sudden insight and heretofore elusive discoveries.
We think about these questions. We dream about them. We talk about them. We listen. We read. We ponder and then we try to push the questions away so we can focus on the hundred more important things we absolutely have to do. We try and then there we go again. We think about these questions. We dream about them. We….
Is this behavior normal? Is our preoccupation with when, where, what, and how within the acceptable range so we don’t have to guard against others learning our little secret? Sad but true. It’s definitely not normal and is so unimportant that it falls far outside any range of interest to most people so it doesn’t even make it on the scale where acceptable and unacceptable issues are considered.
I randomly stopped twelve people and posed the questions to them. When should one write? Where should one write? What should one write? How should one write? Three just stared, shook their heads, and walked away. Four didn’t bother to shake their heads. That left five, two of whom asked, “What are you talking about?” Of the remaining three, two said, “Whatever,” and the one still seeming interested thought for a few seconds and said, “It would be easier to just leave a voice mail. Why do you want to write anything?”
Why? Why do I want to write anything? Here I am worrying, nigh obsessing, about when, where, what, and how and then the one person in a dozen asks why. How frustrating is that? What do I say to someone who thinks that leaving a voice mail is preferable to writing? It might work if I can write the message and then read it onto the voice mail, but maybe not.
It’s tempting to dismiss the why question as the query of an idiot but, of course, it is much more fun to write about it and certainly we all know about the attraction of fun. Let’s take another pass at those four questions and add the why question to the list just for fun.
I’ll take a few editorial liberties with the questions since it’s my piece and we all know about editors and their taking liberties. I’ll start with what to write. The best advice as measured by how many times I have read it is to write about what you know. An alternative thought worth considering measured by my experience is to write about what I don’t know but really want to know. When I have done enough research and have given it enough thought so I can clearly explain it to me, writing about it is fun.
Sure, I know. You got me there. When I write about it, it’s writing about what I then know. Those writing gurus, they always seem to get the last word.
Maybe the going will go a tad easier with the where question. Measuring by how often I have read it, the best advice is to have a quiet place where I won’t be interrupted and everything I need is at hand. — Not in my lifetime. — Do you realize how organized I would have to be to pull that one off? Suffice it to say that, if I wait until I achieve that level of environmental control and self-discipline, writing would be merely one of those “wish I had” laments. I’ll have to be satisfied with wherever the keyboard is and hope for the best. Maybe I will find the piece and quiet somewhere inside me.
When to write? The writing gurus strongly recommend a regular daily schedule. That’s just fine so long as they don’t mean every day at the same time for the same amount of time or even most days at about the same time for nearly the same amount of time. You don’t suppose they mean that, do you? Sad but true. That’s exactly what they mean and they are very serious about it. It’s sort of like responsible drinking. Only have one or two drinks, always after 5:00, and then doing it most days should work out okay.
Unfortunately, I happen to be one of those binge writers. I can go for weeks without so much as a complete sentence and then there is a day or a week or a month where I can hardly stop writing long enough to get anything else done. Sure, I come staggering back to reality sooner or later but the binge has to run its course. Is it an addiction? Is it a compulsion? Is it an obsession? I don’t have a clue but know that it’s way too much fun to stop or to want to stop. I’ll just keep bingeing.
That brings us to the how question. This may be the most guru-answered of the four questions. The obvious advice is to decide what you want to say and then say it, in writing. Perhaps the next most obvious advice is to write what you think you want to say and then read it. It probably isn’t quite what you had in mind so write it again. Maybe by the third or tenth or twenty-fifth pass at it, you will read what you want to say. There you go. You’re a writer. It’s sure fun, isn’t it?
That does it for the what, where, when, and how questions. Nothing to do now but take a crack at that why question. Here we go. It’s not profound and I already let that cat out of the bag. I’m a binge writer, am having too much fun to stop, and way too much fun to wonder why. One of the twelve people in my survey came up to me later and asked, “You spend a lot of time writing but what else do you do?” I didn’t hesitate, “I write and then everything else is research!”
Here’s a Bonus Musing
Is using quotations in a post an indication of intellectual candor and accurate attribution or merely the refuge of a lazy blogger? When I struggle to come up with a few hundred words to fill a post, I am habitually tempted to appropriate a few dozen from the endless supply readily at hand, even if they are not mine. This is likely acceptable if the quotation adds authoritative support to a point, provides an example of someone else’s point of view, represents a particularly clever turn of phrase, or otherwise adds to and extends the post. What if instead, the quoted text merely serves to bulk up the post or substitute for any actual brain work from me?
Sure, I’m going to do it. The arbitrary topic is “astrology,” for no better reason than it struck my fancy. I suspect you may have some experience with having your fancy struck so my picking astrology makes complete sense to you. If not, suffice it to say it was in the stars for me today.
It may be a stretch for you to get into astrology. You may figure Edward Abbey had a point when he said, “Who needs astrology? The wise man gets by on fortune cookies.” If that isn’t strong enough for you, Voltaire may have better captured your attitude about astrology when he said, “Superstition is to religion what astrology is to astronomy: the mad daughter of a wise mother.” Your opposition is even stronger? Perhaps Shakespeare himself has to be joined in your anti-astrology rant, “This is the excellent foppery of the world, that when we are sick in fortune (often the surfeits of our own behavior) we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and stif we were villains on necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and treacherous by spherical predominance; drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforced obedience of planetary influence; and all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting on. An admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition on the charge of a star!” Wow, and he even worked in “foppery,” whatever that means. I seem to recall Nero Wolf using flummery which is not good either; but foppery is new for me.
Despite my plan to pad this post with words appropriated from others, I do have a small urge to at least pretend to be somewhat balanced. A passing nod to the pro-astrology set strikes my fancy. (I know but using it again was just too tempting. At least I didn’t say it was in the stars.) At any rate, Herman Melville summed it up quite well, “Look you, Doubloon, your zodiac here is the life of man in one round chapter. To begin: there’s Aries, or the Ram – lecherous dog, he begets us; then, Taurus, or the Bull – he bumps us the first thing; then Gemini, or the Twins – that is, Virtue and Vice; we try to reach Virtue, when lo! comes Cancer the Crab, and drags us back; and here, going from Virtue, Leo, a roaring Lion, lies in the path – he gives a few fierce bites and surly dabs with his paw; we escape, and hail Virgo, the virgin! that’s our first love; we marry and think to be happy for aye, when pop comes Libra, or the Scales – happiness weighed and found wanting; and while we are very sad about that, Lord! how we suddenly jump, as Scorpio, or the Scorpion, stings us in rear; we are curing the wound, when come the arrows all round; Sagittarius, or the Archer, is amusing himself. As we pluck out the shafts, stand aside! here’s the battering-ram, Capricornus, or the Goat; full tilt, he comes rushing, and headlong we are tossed; when Aquarius, or the Waterbearer, pours out his whole deluge and drowns us; and, to wind up, with Pisces, or the Fishes, we sleep.”
Melville calling us Doubloons aside, he does have a way with words. I think the point is complete. Packing a post with the words of others is to be avoided unless one is totally at a loss for originality. My muse left and still isn’t back on a predictable basis so I am left now and then with no better choice. She has dropped in on an occasional basis, though; so if you have time to read more, some of the posts are much better.