October 16, 2007

Order of operations

When I write as I’m thinking, the thoughts appear on the page in the order that they produce one another; each thought poops out the next one. This tends to create a long string of sausages, often redundant, but hard to edit because each sausage hangs on the one that precedes it.

When I write after having had the whole chain of thoughts, I try to cut it down to the most interesting one, the last one, and justify it only so far as it needs to make sense. But that ends up being like trying to arrange a string of carts with a horse way at the back; all logic flows upstream. This is irritating to read because without the forward tug that made the thoughts come into existence in the first place, the thoughts don’t seem worth having.

Writing is very easy for me when I am able to keep pace eloquently with my thoughts; I trust that my thoughts naturally have a congenial narrative impulse. But when I am not in motion myself, I have a poor sense of how to lay track. My only recourse is to return to the starting point and attempt to make the journey again; repeatedly, with decreasing returns. This goes for music too and absolutely for fiction.

I am led to imagine that real writing is done from the side of the road, unmoving, with a hardhat, but I can’t seem to do that. Nor am I much good at creating things in reverse as I retrace my steps from conclusion to premise; they are always clearly marked as having been invented upside-down, like writing done in a mirror or with the left hand.

My best hope would seem to be of increasing my actual technical fluency so that when the moment of experience is upon me, my writing hand is working efficiently the whole time, and at most only one or two retreads are necessary to fill in the gaps. But that may not be enough to allow me to capture anything really complicated. It is frustrating to feel that my best self may always be beyond my ability to express.

Everyone everywhere feels exactly the same way, no doubt.

In encountering a truly talented writer saying rich things truly well, I think that these things are still only very remotely like the actual thoughts the writer was having at the time. They are just sentences. So too poems, no matter how adept. Communicating a thought is like trying to limn a subtle and complex image of shade and color always in motion, by framing it, standing outside the frame, and plotting straight lines to pass through the frame that maybe correspond in some rough way to what’s under them.

By way of illustration in game and puzzle form, here are Qix and Paint-by-Numbers.

It will no doubt come as no surprise to my most attentive readers – i.e. me – to hear that I have risen from bed in a state of near-sleep to write this.

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