Theory of Writing: Version 1.0

I’ve said in the past that my mouth dislikes words. This remains true. The physical process of speech is challenging for me. The process of writing however, comes more easily.

During our expedition across the DU campus, we encountered a range of definitions for ‘writing.’ The concept that “writing is thinking” has been in the back of my mind for a long while. I suppose because this definition most closely aligns with my personal view of writing. “To write” is an act. ‘Writing’ is the physical product of having written. I differentiate between these two because I think that writing and composition, while intertwined, have different roles to play. Writing in the noun sense can be consumed, it is past and present. What has been written is, to a certain degree, permanent. The compositional sense of writing, writing in the verb sense, accounts for the present and future. It is in the moment and amorphous. Simply put, writing is tangible while composition isn’t.

When we write something down, there is a sense that something has been “stored” for later retrieval. Usually, things that are written down are intended to be viewed  again at a later date, but with the intention of arousing certain thoughts or ideas that played out at the time of composition. While we are doing the physical writing down (composition/writing as a verb), there is a degree of uncertainty and of malleability. In that instant, when nothing has yet been committed to the page, we must call upon our thoughts and organize them (or not), we must choose what will be written down. This is not to say that, at times, everything thought will be put onto the page, but it is to say that everything put onto the page has been considered before being put there. As soon as we make the shift from ordinary thought to the consideration of what will be placed on the (metaphorical) page, everything slows down. There is instantly more at stake. We must consider who will be reading what is written as well as how we want to come across to those individuals. Sometimes this takes a noticeable toll on the end result, other times it doesn’t and other times, there’s no knowing the extent to which entering a compositional mindset has on what is produced.

I say “compositional mindset,” because I think that the same mode of thought existed before writing (as we know it today), was common practice. In Ong’s discussion of primary orality he notes that formulas were relied upon in order to communicate. People relied on parables and cliches–banal “everyday speak” as we’d call it today–in order to relay stories or even oratories. Were people from the time of primary orality entering the same sort of compositional mindset that we enter today when we write? I’d argue that, indeed, they were. The very notion that primary orality relied on formulas and “banal speak” suggests that primary orators were, first and foremost, concerned with audience and enabling a degree of accessibility to that audience.

In some ways, writing can be seen as a single-sided conversation. Ong points out that writing requires a level of foresight in order to be carried out well. He also points out that it allows for a greater degree of “craft” because of the ability to effectually self-censor. When we write we must know which words to use and at what times to use them. In primary orality this holds true as well. Knowing when to use a certain saying, to employ a certain formula, in both modern-day composition as well as orality is crucial to maintaining accessibility to an audience.

As technology has progressed and even overshadowed the traditional forms of writing, so too has the manner in which we interact with audiences. Accessibility remains paramount and the level of accessibility has become a new problem that modern day writers must face. In an age of “secondary orality,” where everything takes place through digital media, where technology is no longer a tool, but foundational to our existence, the question is not whether audiences will be able to access and understand a given work, but to what degree and in what capacity.

Nowadays, we can self-publish works online and instantly provide access to people across the world as a result of the internet. These “works” are taking all sorts of shapes and sizes. There are traditional novels, poetry and prose, but there are also new forms of media–social media being chief among them.

At this juncture, I think it important to note that writing takes on many forms, but at its core it always remains the same. Whether we are compiling a social media page or designing signs for a park, we enter into a state of composition. The questions posed in this mental state will remain the same as well: What am I trying to get across? and; to whom? Of course, many other questions will arise that pertain to a specific project more directly, but they will all stem off the two aforementioned “bigger” questions.

The biggest question of all (in writing at least), is “what do I want to do?” Inherent in this question are many others: where do I want to go? how to get there? real or unreal? and on and on. Ultimately, writing is objective-based. It accomplishes something. The compositional component to writing is the time in which we search for the route to achieving the desired end.

Yes, my mouth still “dislikes words.” I suppose this is because words that leave my mouth don’t always serve a purpose and as Ong would say, spoken words ‘die’ as soon as they leave the tongue. Rather than release words into a decaying void of nothingness (hyperbole I know) I prefer to contribute them to something lasting. Whether or not those words will continue to be read is another question altogether, but writing that serves a purpose and achieves what it set out to achieve (achieving nothing when the destination is “nowhere” counts here as well) deserves to last.

When I was formulating ways in which to complete this assignment I posed myself the question “what is writing to me?” over and over again. I wondered how I’d go about saying this in words. I thought about what I’ve said in the past about writing. Between my actual reflecting on what to write and my actually writing it now (minutes before the midnight deadline) plenty of time has passed. I played in a concert, I worked on homework, I ate, I laughed at my grandmother, I listened to music, I drove, I sat, I walked, the sun rose, it set, it rose and it set again. In looking back over the past few days while I’ve been actively thinking about this assignment as well as reflecting over the quarter/course on the whole, I’ve come to the conclusion that writing is thinking–or, more precisely, thinking is writing. All of the consideration before anything even gets put on the page, all of the questioning, wondering, reflecting, audience-identification, vernacular/formula selection; all of it falls into the compositional mindset–because writing is a state of being, it is a reflective and considerate action and in the end, it is the byproduct of all these things.

 

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