"The peculiar evil of silencing the
expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as
well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more
than those who hold it. If the opinion
is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth:
if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception
and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error."
-- John Stuart Mill
When to write? Where to write? What to write? How to write?
These four simple questions prompt enough complexity in their answers to fill
articles and magazines, books and libraries. They stimulate enough interest and
mental energy to fuel casual discussions and writers’ groups, conferences and
university courses. They hint at profound mysteries and hidden wisdom, the
potential for sudden insight and heretofore elusive discoveries.
We think about these questions. We dream about them. We talk
about them. We listen. We read. We ponder and then we try to push the questions
away so we can focus on the hundred more important things we absolutely have to
do. We try and then there we go again. We think about these questions. We dream
about them. We….
Is this behavior normal? Is our preoccupation with when, where,
what, and how within the acceptable range so we don’t have to guard against
others learning our little secret? Sad but true. It’s definitely not normal and
is so unimportant that it falls far outside any range of interest to most
people so it doesn’t even make it on the scale where acceptable and
unacceptable issues are considered.
I randomly stopped twelve people and posed the questions to
them. When should one write? Where should one write? What should one write? How
should one write? Three just stared, shook their heads, and walked away. Four
didn’t bother to shake their heads. That left five, two of whom asked, “What
are you talking about?” Of the remaining three, two said, “Whatever,” and the
one still seeming interested thought for a few seconds and said, “It would be
easier to just leave a voice mail. Why do you want to write anything?”
Why? Why do I want to write anything? Here I am worrying, nigh
obsessing, about when, where, what, and how and then the one person in a dozen
asks why. How frustrating is that? What do I say to someone who thinks that
leaving a voice mail is preferable to writing? It might work if I can write the
message and then read it onto the voice mail, but maybe not.
It’s tempting to dismiss the why question as the query of an
idiot but, of course, it is much more fun to write about it and certainly we
all know about the attraction of fun. Let’s take another pass at those four
questions and add the why question to the list just for fun.
I’ll take a few editorial liberties with the questions since
it’s my piece and we all know about editors and their taking liberties. I’ll
start with what to write. The best advice as measured by how many times I have
read it is to write about what you know. An alternative thought worth
considering measured by my experience is to write about what I don’t know but
really want to know. When I have done enough research and have given it enough
thought so I can clearly explain it to me, writing about it is fun.
Sure, I know. You got me there. When I write about it, it’s
writing about what I then know. Those writing gurus, they always seem to get
the last word.
Maybe the going will go a tad easier with the where question.
Measuring by how often I have read it, the best advice is to have a quiet place
where I won’t be interrupted and everything I need is at hand. -- Not in my
lifetime. -- Do you realize how organized I would have to be to pull that one
off? Suffice it to say that, if I wait until I achieve that level of environmental
control and self-discipline, writing would be merely one of those “wish I had”
laments. I’ll have to be satisfied with wherever the keyboard is and hope for
the best. Maybe I will find the piece and quiet somewhere inside me.
When to write? The writing gurus strongly recommend a regular
daily schedule. That’s just fine so long as they don’t mean every day at the
same time for the same amount of time or even most days at about the same time
for nearly the same amount of time. You don’t suppose they mean that, do you?
Sad but true. That’s exactly what they mean and they are very serious about it.
It’s sort of like responsible drinking. Only have one or two drinks, always
after 5:00, and then doing it most days should work out okay.
Unfortunately, I happen to be one of those binge writers. I can
go for weeks without so much as a complete sentence and then there is a day or
a week or a month where I can hardly stop writing long enough to get anything
else done. Sure, I come staggering back to reality sooner or later but the
binge has to run its course. Is it an addiction? Is it a compulsion? Is it an
obsession? I don’t have a clue but know that it’s way too much fun to stop or
to want to stop. I’ll just keep bingeing.
That brings us to the how question. This may be the most
guru-answered of the four questions. The obvious advice is to decide what you
want to say and then say it, in writing. Perhaps the next most obvious advice
is to write what you think you want to say and then read it. It probably isn’t
quite what you had in mind so write it again. Maybe by the third or tenth or
twenty-fifth pass at it, you will read what you want to say. There you go.
You’re a writer. It’s sure fun, isn’t it?
That does it for the what, where, when, and how questions.
Nothing to do now but take a crack at that why question. Here we go. It’s not
profound and I already let that cat out of the bag. I’m a binge writer, am
having too much fun to stop, and way too much fun to wonder why. One of the
twelve people in my survey came up to me later and asked, “You spend a lot of
time writing but what else do you do?” I didn’t hesitate, “I write and then
everything else is research!”
Of course, having done all that research and then all that
writing, it’s way too tempting to compile the output into a coherent collection
of thoughts, insights, musings, and ramblings. Sure, a coherent collection
would be totally terrific; but that gets us back to that being organized thing.
Usually, the best I can do is to be sort of coherent. The result is this
collection that isn’t exactly coherently organized. Rather, it’s only pretty
interesting and full of this and that. My goal is to tempt you to “Stop To
Consider” the ideas and concepts, musings and observations. Perhaps you will
find a few notions to which you actually want to give some serious thought. You
may even want to jot down some of your ideas for your own coherent collection.
If not, just consider your journey through the essays as research.