Writing is (from the id)
Writing is (from the id)
Recently I've been experimenting with a bunch of different styles of writing. Some of these are in public under my real name, others aren't. The First Hard Choice is an example of me doing this on my newsletter.
On Twitter I recently described this as "writing from the id":
There's a writing trick I've figured out recently that is something like "writing from the id" and gosh I cannot exactly recommend it but it sure is interesting.— David R. MacIver (@DRMacIver) November 9, 2021
What I mean by this is that you just narrow in on a feeling that exists in your subconscious and pull on the thread and see what comes out, without any real concern about what you are trying to do or who you are trying to do it for other than yourself, and your success depends largely on how well you've narrowed in on some deep well of feeling.
I said I didn't know how to explain the mental motion, and then this morning I remembered that I have in fact written about 2/3rds of a draft explaining part of the key to the mental motion, months ago, and then never finished it because I lost the thread of the thought and it was impossible to resume.
Well, this is the notebook, the place for incomplete thoughts and bad explanations, and there's enough good in the draft that maybe it will help someone even as it is.
Hey. Hey you. Listen up. You’ve been lied to. But I’m going to tell you the truth.
Well, no, I’m probably going to lie to you too. But they’ll be different lies. Maybe between the two lies you’ll figure out a bit of the truth.
This is a piece in three voices. You probably won’t need me to spell them out, you should be able to hear them in the writing. You could name them, if you like. Scholar, poet, bro.
But they are all me. I’m just doing an experiment in writing style, practicing code switching mid thought.
Code switching. Shape shifting. Dancing from form to form as the thought and the feeling shifts and twists.
Writing is Becoming the writer you need to be In order to write The words that you need to write
Following where it takes me. Not trying to hide the dance from you. The whirlwind lurking behind each piece.
You know why I write what I do, right? Because someone has to. This is no different.
It’s all a dumb trick of course. This piece is no different than any other. It’s not an escape from style, it’s just another style. More gimmick than truth. I give it a C-. Cute idea, lousy execution. Stick to the assignment, kid.
This is unfair of course. At school, assignments where I broke form usually got an A. Aside from some mutually embarrassing conversations about unintended sexual connotations, my English teacher rather liked my poetry. I got an A for a very funny chemistry report.
Oh good, an A. That makes it all better. That’s the lie, right there. You can’t grade writing. That’s not what it’s for. It’s bullshit. Writing isn’t there to be assessed, it’s there to get shit done. Nobody is grading your fucking tweets, and every single one is more useful than any essay you ever wrote in school. Writing is a way to
Make a connection An intimacy I can’t let you in Can’t show you what it’s like to be me But maybe I can give you a glimpse? Walk you through the steps Show you a little of what it’s like.
I tell people that writing is like pulling on the thread of a thought. This is true. This is a lie.
Writing is like stepping into the water. Sometimes the current is gentle and you can go where you want. Sometimes a torrent takes you and you have no choices left.
This isn’t how they tell you it works, of course. Plan, prepare, edit. Put on a performance for teacher. The things you write for yourself aren’t “real” writing”, are they?
You can tell they’re not real because nobody is watching you. Grading you. Telling you your the right sort of person, fitting into the nice tidy person shaped box they’ve laid out for you. What do you mean, it doesn’t fit? What, you want special treatment? Fuck you, you’re not special, you’re not worth it.
You are, of course.
The truth is they don’t know how to teach you to write. Neither do I.
Perhaps writing is not something you can teach, because all the most important parts are already there.
All you can do is Show them to the water Invite them in Tell them you’ve got them It’s safe It’s not real water You can’t drown Though you won’t always believe this when the current takes you.
We don’t know how to teach writing because writing is everything And everything can be writing How can you teach everything? We barely know how to teach something.
Remember when I said there were three voices here? That was a lie of course. There’s only one voice here. It’s all me.
You can wall off the different parts of you, keep them tidy and separate.
But there are no walls inside your mind Unless you put them there.
We learn particular ways of writing designed to please particular groups of people. Does this sound like a tweet? Does this sound like a paper? Have you learned to make yourself acceptable to us? How can we know what to make of you if you do not first make yourself into what we want you to be? In order to write, you must first decide who to write for.
Or you can make them By writing for them
You can write within a neat and tidy style, following all the rules. You should. The rules are an excellent place to learn. A style is where you learn not what to write but how. By following the rules and learning what they entail you can learn skills that you could never find left to your own devices.
But many of the rules you learn are shit. Dry, boring, forms, that do nothing but make you easy to assess. A great way to make it easy for someone to see what’s in your head without caring about it. But that isn’t what writing is for. Writing isn’t how you should what’s in your head. Writing is how you put new things in other people’s heads. Writing is
A borderland Where chaos and order meet Where the jumble and swirl of thoughts inside your head Take shape upon a page Into something that can live on in others
Writing is Always, ultimately, a way to explain part of yourself to others. This is how I see the world. This is what I think is important. This is what I think this is. This is what I see. This is how I feel.
But it’s cringe, right? Adults don’t write like this. There’s a reason for that. You left your poetry behind with your teenage years. Back then you still acted like your feelings mattered. But this wasn’t how you were supposed to write poetry. It was too raw, too crude. How could you think your clumsy words on a page could matter to anyone?
Writing is Chasing the leading edge of those feelings And seeing where they lead you Drawing out a thought Clearing a space into which it can emerge Surprising even you
Writing is Sitting in front of a page And pouring out words onto it Fresh from the place where words come from.
Writing is where you make a connection To others To yourself Where you bring together things that you didn’t know belonged together And place them upon the page and only then can say “Yes, that’s right. That’s how it is.”
Good writing matters. It is impossible to write about something that doesn’t matter to you. Instead you must become a writer to whom it matters, and write from there. Writing is taking a part of you that matters and sharing it with others, as a gift.
Or writing is taking a part of you that matters And putting it onto a page Never to be shown to others, because you are afraid that they might crush it.
The formal style provides a distance from the writing. You show yourself, but also hide yourself. You carefully, clinically, talk about your feelings, but never really show them. You couch your words in an accent of “well this is just what I think”, or an academic “one” in which the authorship of the piece is hidden behind a veil of indirection. No, look elsewhere, not at me. Throwing your passive voice.
You learned this style as a defence mechanism. It’s terrifying to put a piece of yourself out into the world and have it judged. We are not kind to others’ writing. We critique it, we comment on it, we focus on the wrong parts and take some random detail and tear it to shreds while the author looks on in horror, crying “No! Listen to what I’m saying. That’s not what matters here!”.
So we write armoured. We put out these pieces with only the barest sliver of ourselves, wrapped in so many defences and hedges and justifications that it was hardly worth writing. “Look at me”, we cry, “Hear what I’m saying”, behind so many caveats and hedges and with so little to say that they cannot possibly hear what we’re saying.
Or sometimes we disown the piece. Cast it out into the world in a manner that indicates we don’t really mean it. “Ha ha, only joking… unless?”
You can see it here, writing a piece like this required me to add a whole layer of ironic meta-commentary to make it safe.
No, fuck you, that’s not what this is. This is the lie again. Serious is not the same as formal.
Writing doesn’t have to be good. It’s not a neat and tidy medium in which every thought and feeling can be tidily cut and pressed and put on display. I don’t write in an informal style when I’m not serious, I write like this when I am so serious I can’t help it. I don’t have the time or energy to sit down and put things in a nice and tidy format in which I present all my arguments and put in fancy
Line breaks which somehow break the rhythm in a way that makes it art. Sometimes I’m just trying to talk to you, and what I want to talk about is important! Not everything is pretty. Not everything is neat. Not everything I write is because I have some cleverly packaged idea I want to communicate to you.
You know what writing is? Writing is pure unbridled rage. A scream at the world “be different!”. You lower your voice, learn to argue persuasively, learn to be nice and polite and tidy in a way
(This is where the draft ends, and I don’t intend to finish it)