“I have so little control over the act of writing that it’s all I can do to remain conscious.” -David Rakoff
This is an interesting example of a phrase that can be taken in a number of ways.
It can seem to speak to an urge to write that is irresistible, something that just has to be and that the writer is not really able to control. For many of us, there is some truth in that because the thoughts and words seem to come unbidden and without any form of conscious control.
And yet on another level, I am sure we have all sat and faced a blank page, wondering what on earth we were going to fill it with. It is not always easy to even write a shopping list, because of all the possible lists that could be written.
Therein lies the dichotomy at the heart of the writing process. Is it a simple matter of getting what is in one’s head out as the written word, or is it a process of inventing words and phrases to form a coherent whole?
As with many of these questions, the answer is not a simple one.
The urge to write can be strong or weak, but what counts is what one does with that urge. If I am dawdling about making a shopping list, thinking that I have a hundred and one other things to do, then I can focus of the thought of the empty pantry, and realize that making the list is the better of two evils.
If I am writing a dissertation for my Master’s Degree, after a while even I may not think the topic and content are interesting, but the goal of finishing the degree will spur me on to complete the task in hand.
But what of more personal or creative writing?
Here, there may be some far of thought of wanting to publish a book, or be recognized as an authority on the subject, but in all reality, these are often far too tenuous ideas to be considered as a real motivation.
At this point, the writing must become more of a personal desire, complete in and of itself. Being conscious of the writing is, in that way, an irrelevance. We are writing because we are writing, it is as simple as that.
But where I differ from the author of this quote is in the matter of being conscious of the content. Writing may seem a simple and easy thing to do. We just sit at our desk, put our fingers on the keyboard, and type away. Words form, then sentences and paragraphs, and eventually we have written our quota for the day.
What then of content? The forming of the words may be automatic, but, it seems to me, the overall written piece is more than the sum of the words. The reason the piece was written is a higher matter than the sentence structure and vocabulary.
Content is King, and for that to happen, there need be more than the simple outpouring of words.