Few insights seem more worthless than the one where the writer decides that his words fail to describe what he’s trying to say. Of course they do, for words serve as no more than messenger. The content sits separate from them, depending upon some largely preconscious collaboration between the by-then absent writer and the all too present reader. The meaning sits somewhere in-between them, depending upon essentially undependable words and the meaning both will make of them.

The meaning starts, of course, with the writer. Though he does not determine exactly the meaning any reader might make of his words, he weaves his web intending. His clarity when intending influences the meaning his reader might finally conclude. He also has tricks as well as tradecraft, and he either knows how to construct a cogent sentence and a coherent paragraph, or not. If not, the clarity of his intention can’t matter, the words will no more than natter. But the specific words might matter less than the rhythm of them when strung altogether. Can they carry the intended tune?

Writing, if it is to describe anything, might need to be properly inductive first. It should impart a felt sense coherent with what’s being described, otherwise it produces paradox and confusion, like insisting that a word is a color. Nobody should believe me if I insist that the color of the word red is really RED. It’s not, no matter what I said, and the reader senses this contradiction without experiencing any sensation at all. The reader will not believe what I’m saying then, no matter how eloquent my explanation.

The most personal induces the most universal, for the universal could not possibly exist except as projected personal experience. No group ever felt anything. No ‘we’ ever cried. The benighted third person never was a person at all, and so hardly bears considering. Crowds might move, but ‘they’ can never move me, and writing should move the reader. No one ever relates to how that crowd feels. They know crowds can’t feel. If the writer wants to move his reader, he must take his hand and confide, not sic a collective imaginal on him.

I almost always begin by feeling overwhelmingly inadequate to the chore. This sensation usually appears as me feeling bored and, quite often, as me feeling scared. Creating scares the pants right off me, and should. I cower before I ever start crowing. These feelings might become insurmountable. They often scare me away. If so, flight might just be the lesson for that day. I will fold my paper, put away my crayon, and get on with something more tolerable. I will forego the ego boost, declining to play, and I will know I’ve made one crappy compromise, but the siphon just would not catch that day. I could have crawled through endless hours throwing meaningless mud balls at indifferent walls and punched my time card as if collecting hourly pay, but writing doesn’t work that way. It’s play or it’s really nothing much at all.

Some days, I hear the call. I rise with uncommon clarity and just sort of fall into writing well. Blessed with inspiration, everything I write seems right; and is. The rhythm catches and I cannot see any way this great gift might fail me. I need not be courageous or clever then. The words appear with deep meaning already imbedded in, and I cannot rightfully claim credit for creating them. Then, I serve as conduit or channel, it seems, not author so much as scribe. I gratefully imbibe, a special kind of aliveness driving, and me more or less just along for the ride. Even then, I recognize that this flowing is not the norm, and I should not expect it to be. It’s a treat to be savored but never depended upon, though anyone could quite easily develop a dependency for it.

Mostly, writing seems more slog. So very much happens at the same time that writing cannot happen fully consciously. I seem to enter a kind of coma state, one similar to the place my mind goes when engaging in utterly mindless yet grueling labor. My body seems to disseminate into separate beings then, each attending to their allotted role. My hands dance through the process guided by a deeply-grooved muscle memory. My eyes then have a mind all their own. My mind, occupied elsewhere. The rules matter very little in practice, but demand much invoking practice before they even approach their necessary irrelevance. Because so much occurs simultaneously, some parts simply must find haven elsewhere than in the head. Muscle, perhaps, murmuring physical memory to prevent the brain from overheating. The ear, for instance, really should be in charge of choosing some words. An ounce of assonance might just be the cure for dry descriptive text. Prose is really poetry with most of the white space removed, improved by subtly rhyming sequences only an ear could ever choose. This work can only succeed as irreverent play, and it might be true that the more serious the subject, the more light-hearted the writer must become. It’s serious business, worthy of not taking altogether too seriously.

Some writing, though, insists upon being content-free. The business cycle subtly demands this. It measures production by counting white pages filled and by the density of familiar memes. This writing is by popular consent, dormative, relying upon tenacious non-description, employing meaningless phrases with great authority. The bottom line demands this, and presenting anything of literary merit there will merely pinpoint the author as an alien, whose words could not possibly matter simply because they say something. Surprise relies upon a suggestible mind, not one constitutionally closed to difference. The discovery must report what was planned. Any deviation, however well-intended, must be brought into line, which almost always means some form of shooting the messenger. Martyrdom might be a worthy end, but choose the cause with care. Hint: It’s rarely found in any conference room anywhere.

Proofreading might well be necessary, but I prefer proof listening. I read the piece out loud to prove it’s complete. Preferably, I have the computer read it back to me so I can listen with my eyes closed and for the first time hear what I might have actually said. Reading it back to myself allows my mind to reconsider, but rather deafens the rest of me. Listening, eyes closed, allows all those tacit contributors to engage as if first time readers. I can sense then the inductive nature of what I’ve produced and judge that most elusive quality the finished piece absolutely must possess.

Writing’s finally a felt sense, but then so is reading, too. This felt place might be where the writer and reader can only ever finally join. Meaning emerges there. Understanding thrives not on the paper or the screen, but in this curious place in-between.

Writing, then, which seems so straightforward an act involving fingers transcribing mind, simply must involve more parts and pieces than that. It seems a disembodying action, one demanding that the writer dissimilate self into separate pieces while commanding those pieces to contribute harmoniously so as to create some whole. I could swear the writer is actually in there somewhere, confiding only in me. Writing involves little commanding, though, and much more letting go and letting come. It’s something anyone would be well-advised to shy far away from, for their self will certainly not survive while being described. Only later might he come back together and become conventionally alive again. During the passage, he will be disassembled on the deck, mostly just along for the ride.

©2015 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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