Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What to consider when writing

There are two kinds of writing. The familiar kind is when you want to express something - a feeling, an experience, a fascination with a brand new concept that seems to be universally applicable, an opinion on a current event, etc. There's something inside that wants to get out, and it will only get out through the words put to print.

To write what one wants to write. Because that is what one wants.

The other, maybe slightly less familiar, kind is the writing that wants to finish something. To accomplish something. To have been written. To be able to say that there is writing about it. To be able to give to someone and say: this is what you need to read in order to understand.

To write what others need to read. Because they need it.

These two kinds are not the same. They differ. In just about any way you could care to mention, except maybe in the purely physical sense.

When thinking about writing, it is important to consider why. Not just why anything in particular, but why in general - why writing? Is it writing for the sake of writing, or writing for the sake of reading? For the sake of affecting some kind of change?

The key way to understand this difference is to ask the question: what difference does it make if this text makes it to its readers?

If it makes the biggest of all differences - has the potential to - you tend to write differently than when it doesn't. In general, you tend to become less and less personal the more difference hangs in the balance. And, in a sudden reversal, the words tend to become all the more indifferent. They are not you, they are just dead lead, words on a page.

Because you are no longer the author. The difference you want to make is.

Take, for instance, the period of time before an important vote is taken in assembly. There's still time to change the votes of individual members of this assembly, and giving these members a piece of text might change it. What to write?

If it is important enough, you just want them to vote your way. The reason for this is indifferent, only that they do. So, what to write?

The text that will make them vote differently. The text that, when they read it, makes them make up their minds.

This is not the same kind of text that begins with "hello, my name is [name], and I think that...".

The expression of one's own feelings, thoughts and impressions is no small challenge, to be sure. But it requires a different set of frames of reference than the production of the impersonal piece of discourse that will produce the change you want.

This is the difference between poetics and rhetoric.

You are somewhere in the middle.


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