Philosophy of writing - J.R Nova

posted 19 Jul 2012, 03:09 by Shen Hart

What is Writing?


The written word is connective tissue between one mind and another, joining minds (an infinite number of minds; as many minds as there are humans who read) in a grand webbing of thought. Writing acts as telekinesis, transferring thought from one mind to another mind, but this is not writing's sole purpose, or the purpose, for writing as a creative endeavor is as multi-functional as a Swiss Army knife.

Yet writing is not just what it can do, but also what it means. Meaning is wildly subjective and hard to identify, and though there may never be a textbook definition of meaning that doesn't shift from person to person, as long as writing acts as connective tissue from one mind to another, there may be a definitive, though unspoken (intuitive) meaning for our species as a whole.

Writing is personalized. Individually, people write differently at different stages of their development, changing as they grow (perhaps evolving from poetry to fiction to nonfiction). Different writers are interested in various types of expression. One may write love poems, another technical manuals, and still another philosophy (or all of these at once).

For the beginner, writing is often introspective. Putting words—which symbolize feeling—on a blank page is a sort of therapy. This may be the basic purpose of writing, as well as the first stage of its unfolding into something higher. At this point writing is done from necessity, as a way to release some of the pressure in one's mind as he or she faces down an overwhelming reality. It is no surprise that as puberty begins, so does an interest in poetry and journaling. The self-awareness that puberty brings also ushers in the ability to create anew from one's imagination—or perhaps only the need to do so.

Then even teenage writers grow up and writing becomes more; perhaps on a professional level as an author or journalist, or on a private level as before, but more intricate, more involved.

Just because each writer is writing something different, be it for himself only or for the world, doesn't mean that all writers aren't expressing something on a deeper level—on a genetic level. Isn't it apparent that those of us who are writers aren't writers by choice, but by design? We are born this way, really, and though a few life events may have pushed us along in our choice to devote time to communicative language, little can explain the passion for what many others in society shun or ignore.

Not all writers were, growing up, a certain type of student or child. Among writers are jocks, nerds, goths, prom queens, class clowns—introverts, extroverts. There is no rule of childhood development to explain why some are writers and others are not, for few students ever take an interest in writing, and fewer still get the “bug” that drives them to writing as a lifestyle. Many of us come from families that idolized books: we read from an early age and were pushed in school to succeed academically. But just as many of us (if not more) hail from fairly average families. We were not bookworms or intellectuals, but working-class. Putting food on the table, not the art of learning, was the most important activity growing up. Education—writing—was only a means to that end, not an end in and of itself.

How can we explain ourselves—our passion for the written word—when we have brothers and sisters, parents, and cousins who do not write, and have no interesting in writing or reading?

Perhaps we are driven, not by culture or by upbringing, but by some design of human nature to fulfil a necessary role? Not for our society, but for our species, as is said about the shaman or chief. For society, the scribe is no less important than the religious or political leader.

The easiest way to understand what writing is may be through the lens of one who cannot write.

There has always been a fundamental problem involved with writing, be it emotionally charged and private tirades, fiction meant for education, or non-fiction meant for education. That problem is “Writer's Block.” Writer's Block hinders the writer from progressing with a poem, a story, or an article. It can be a vague sort of existential zit that, even when the writer knows the cause, may be a difficult thing to correct and get over. Other times, the cause may not be known, and the event may clear itself up in a matter of days.

Either way, Writer's Block shows a side of not-writing that must be approached if we are to understand writing. Writing is not a wholly automatic process, but neither is it a manual process. The creative event that is writing is not based on rules or laws, not natural or man-made, and leans toward either of two extremes. The first extreme is the passionate creative outburst, unguided and unfettered, giving freely to spontaneity. The second extreme is the carefully constructed, plotted piece, where all words are expected and each fits a design.

Writer's Block effects both types of writing styles through the brain's failure to “let the words out.” Is there something else going on here? Very rarely have people ventured the question: “What is writing?” Is it physical or mental? Both? Something else entirely? We use our fingers (more so when we wrote by hand on parchment) and we use our minds, but we do not use our minds all the time.

Using Writer's Block as the comparative yard stick, how can we judge what writing is? For some, their inability to write is a mental hiccup. They cannot properly motivate themselves, have no passion for the work, or have no clear focus or goal in mind, hindering their progress. Give the mind a thousand options and it often fails to choose, perplexed by the offerings.

For others Writer's Block is a physical phenomenon. It's a matter of not being able to sit down, to stay still. These writers are agitated, squirmy, their bodies jumping around in a sort of attention deficit dance.

For the rest it's a mixture of everything.

So to answer the question “What is writing?” we must not focus entirely on just one aspect. It is not, like running, a physical act alone, nor is it, like daydreaming, a mental one. The brain can be turned off, and words can fall from something deep within the subconscious, and all that must take place is for the physical body to be in a chair, at a desk, in front of a computer—fingers moving quickly enough to get the words down. Or the fingers, in starts and stutters, may not be active as the brain struggles, twists, and contorts itself into giving the perfect word, the right phrase, the ideal way to say what needs to be said, so that the writer can feel in control.

Before computers, typewriters, and even the printing press, writing was much more like painting in that drawing out each letter required at least a basic artistic talent, aside from the creative talent needed to form coherent thoughts. Artistic talent can be said to be physical. The nerves in the hand grew used to making the same stroke in the same way. The eyes were one of the primary tools involved. Writing was not so mental, and once a person grew accustomed to physically writing, it could be done on a sort of auto-pilot—the mind not required to check and recheck the body's progress at all.

And yet writing evolved, not as a physical expression (like dancing), but as a mental one. The words, their dark ink drying to the parchment, were, are, and always will be symbols to express the mind. A purely mental and mentally motivated act, to diagnose and see, at least from a different point of view, reality. And in this way the written word has come to be nothing more than a disc or recording. It is played by the eyes—read—and processed by the brain, transported to the form of imagination, so that the words “blue sky and white clouds” gives the reader an incredible sight. Not reality, but the reader's comprehension of reality. Writing is done physically, but entirely for the mental exercise of reading.

But does this mean that writing is a way to comprehend reality? Is its purpose that of understanding? Or is it the mechanism in reverse, a way to express what is in the mind, that which is not reality but only mimics it? A way to comprehend the mind?

It is possible. Reality is what reality is, a very different thing than thoughts, memory, imagination. We all experience it, most of us experiencing it in the same way—or in very similar ways. But our minds are seemingly cut off from each other. Our brains cannot see other brains, the thoughts and emotions therein. We can all watch the same reality unfold (perhaps judging it differently), but none of us can see or even be aware of the same thought in one person's mind. Communication is the only way to properly cross the gap from one mind to another, but whereas words are mere noise and are lost almost as immediately as they are spoken, written words can be saved, guarded, and passed down from generation to generation with accuracy—the only variable being the evolution of the minds of future readers, who may not be familiar with the ways past cultures thought and expressed themselves.

The written word is a way to make human thought permanent, fixed. No longer is it a butterfly fluttering wildly inside the head, or a spoken sound that may or may not be heard, or easily ignored, and in the end lost as all sound is lost, to silence.

This fixing of thought is incredibly important to a species as intelligent as ours. We perceive impermanence in the forms of death and change, and need some counterbalance to these ideas. Writing itself is that counterbalance, for here we have something that “keeps” with time. On top of this, include the various meanings of the symbolic words throughout the history of literature, the works of Plato and Shakespeare, Kant and Twain. Of the pulp writers of the 20s and 30s and all of the writers since.

We all seem to be reaching for something, though reaching for it in our own way. Taking our own path to the same destination, and yet each letter we write and type is a piece of a key to unlock the door of humanity.

It is almost as if writing is mankind's stab at immortality.


If so, this immortality is expressed just as well in a teenage girl's journal as it is in the written form of E=MC2.


You can find more philosophical based posts and articles from J.R on his blog. 

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