Wednesday, June 5, 2013

On Writing

by Kent Aitken RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Kent Aitkentwitter / kentdaitkengovloop / KentAitken

I have an interesting relationship with writing. I actually frequently feel unqualified, unsuited, or presumptuous in writing anything.

In my head, every sentence I write starts with “I think,” or “I believe,” or “It appears to be the case that.” My fingers edit those parts out, for two reasons. One is that you, reader, can infer that I believe the things I’m writing by virtue of the fact that I’m writing them. The other is that it would otherwise make for a terrible read.

But it belies how doubtful I am. I’m really not that self-assured.

So why do I write, and publicly?

1. Practice. Writing is an invaluable skill, and consuming the writing of brilliant others will only get you so far. This is part of the impetus behind Tariq’s writing challenge (which I've, embarrassingly, missed for two weeks). I think that I’m pretty good at putting together sentences. I’m far less comfortable in my ability to draw connections between concepts, and to organize thoughts logically to make it easy for readers to follow. Structuring things on a blog adds psychological incentive to write more, and write better.

I believe that almost all skills are learnable, like music, and that we’re probably all writers, too.

2. Insight. “Writing is the art of discovering what you believe.” I typically spend a few days writing in my head before I ever approach a piece of paper or a keyboard, but it is rare that I finish a post without coming up with something novel to add while getting everything down. I never know quite what is going to happen, and the surprises are sometimes really worthwhile. Part of it is imagining the piece from the perspective of readers and listeners, and part of it is simply a function of staring and obsessing over an idea for hours. It’s a close and clear lens.

Of course, this happens in conversations with other people, too. But I have a complex relationship with “other people” and like to spend time exploring ideas myself.

3. Perspective. Somewhere in your mind, there’s a switch labelled “I write about things.” When I cajoled that into the On position, my relationship with thoughts changed. Faint traces of ideas waft by, and I chase them down and hold on to them for dear life. I carved out a cellar for them, stowing them away and taking stock periodically to see if it is their time yet. Or if new ideas have appeared that I can mix with the old. Sometimes they sit for years.

I compared it to hiking with a camera. I don’t think it detracts from the raw experience: enjoying nature with your eyes, ears, nose, and skin. But it adds another layer, and keeps me alert for unconventional ways of framing and seeing my surroundings.

4. Resonance. Less reliable than the other reasons, but every now and again, something I make resonates with someone. It’s incredible when it happens.

I’ll point you towards Andrew Kurjata’s fantastic piece on why he creates, Shut Up and Say Something. He nailed it.

I’ll just add that if you create something, and don’t share it, the chance of it resonating with someone else stays exactly zero.

5. Because the world keeps not ending. I started small with sharing, and the world didn't end. Then I opened the doors a bit wider, and the world didn't end.

So I’ll keep writing as long as catastrophes keep not happening when I do.

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