The Writing Process

Lost at Sea: The Relationship Between Words & Ideas

buoy at sea

It’s good to finally take yourself seriously as a writer but-as you find markets for your work- you must not forget the simple joy of making art.  In my experience, the best writing is done in a spirit of fun without the expectation of a client or reader.  The pieces I hold dearest were written on mornings just like this, ordinary mornings when I just plucked myself out of bed and went straight to the page.  In fact, my best pieces were usually just talking on paper: I wasn’t hoping to impress anyone (hell, I wasn’t even expecting to share what I’d written with anyone); I wasn’t wondering how I’d be received or worrying whether I’d sound sophisticated or literary enough; I was just chatting casually with a friend- the paper.

That’s where most writing goes bad: when it starts to consider anything more than the paper. It’s only when we become concerned with accolades and acclaim, with public reception that we neglect the most important thing: what it is we’re trying to say.  If we lose sight of what we’re actually hoping to communicate, if our words no longer act as the slaves to our ideas, our writing becomes pure performance-form without content.  Such writing is a Super Bowl half time show: dazzling, over-the-top, but little more than trifling fluff.

I can identify the exact moment this happens in my own writing.  How to describe it?  The words lose some of their forcefulness because they’re no longer anchored by the weight of ideas.  They become lost buoys floating through the ocean, untethered to actual meaning.  Good writing is just the opposite.  A fine sentence is stable, solid, hospitable: every term has a home.  You get the sense that each word is exactly in its place, that each syllable is performing a particular function, the sentence’s effortlessness a guise for the complex machinery operating beneath. A sloppy sentence will have its parts arranged all haphazard; an adept sentence will be organized in the most meaningful way without neglecting more aesthetic considerations like rhythm and tone.

So how can we bring this “grounded-ness” to our own writing?  how can we avoid getting lost at sea?  We must pay heed to form and content, we must be sure our words are affixed to actual ideas.

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