Saturday, May 12, 2018


Some macro elements of writing are almost beaten to death and others are totally invisible.  This will be a quick once-over so I can come back to think about the elements in more detail later.  In fact, the practice of coming back to revise writing has always been done, but with the advent of screen writing and public writing — which is slightly different from being published -- fluid and fluent content, organization and technicalities like font or margins, can be changed even while in the possession of the reader, from one reading to the next.  Good thing, because the choices of some writers are very hard to read, like a pre-teen using purple ink or someone with wretched handwriting that needs the near-equivalent to translation.

Private notes are written but not made public.  When I read a very dense piece of writing by someone else, I split the screen and use half for notes and little mini-lists so that I can write an accurate essay (translates to attempt) of the ideas later.  This is even more vital when the thought is not in print, but in video, though modern video can be backed up and reviewed which was once an advantage only of print.  

One doesn’t normally do this for fiction unless as a close student or a reviewer.  Most don’t usually look for the ideas underlying fiction, preferring them to remain in the head of the author though that person might have strong political thoughts to illustrate.  Since most of the fiction of our times  -- as has been common since the beginning of the “roman”  -- is a closed loop of women prevented from having much of a real life.  That is, both authors and readers are interested in situations like theirs and looking for ideas about them, but the fiction is not much produced or read outside their circles.

However, another fiction loop — more likely to include men— is adventure and exploration, expanded to science fiction.  One might include technologies and maps, ideas about what’s where and how to get there.  This could include the virtual gaming of computer worlds.  The layout of the universe is still a great gameboard as well as supplying National Geographic.  

The ultimate adventure for both genders is coming of age or realizing one’s true nature.  There are names for these story genre, often in European languages, like Bildungsroman.  Transformation stories can be about any age and include intense experiences like trauma or war or sudden fame and fortune.

That’s subject matter thinking, but it’s closely related to readership.  Who are you writing FOR?  That’s a determining influence on what and how the writing.  Another loop is writing for those who are trying to write, usually white people but maybe dark people hoping for success.  Writing about writer’s block, writing about courses of study, advice about creating a place to write — it’s all part of a determination to occupy a certain role rather than really being driven to write.  Such people should probably stick to reading, but that takes an infrastructure of supply: sources of books, a computer, a library, friends who will pass around books.  Not everyone can connect with that for reading.  In fact, even if someone wrote with kidnapped school supplies, there is a whole other infrastructure for publication.  

If one is really aiming at publication rather than just writing and maybe making it public with xerox or blog, a whole new body of print and vid is out there to offer advice.  Publication is a lot like gaming, except not private because the goal is to contact and persuade people, maybe far away and kind of semi-hostile.  That’s another loop that requires finding out where they are so as to make contact.

Other institutions besides publishing “houses” can pay for the right to claim print for their own purposes.  Academia, religious bodies, political bodies, how-to communities, and “dark” material offering stigmatized or scary stuff from undisclosed persons.  There's more.  In a class we wrote a book and "published" it to the school and village.

Most of the sources that teach “how to write” will offer formulas something like betting on horseraces.  That is, the names of famous “horses,” advice about getting out of the gate fast, whether to ride-the-rail, the justification of whipping — all in terms of writing, of course.  The three part paragraph, the “snowflake pattern,” the bell curve of events complete with resolution and denouement.  Google lists include 8 basic stories, 7 basic stories, 6 basic stories and so on.  They are all basically about stages in the journey from birth to death with a nod to reproduction.  Whether it ends well or not depends on all these factors.

The smallest loop of all is the individual person, the writer who is the only reader of his or her own writing.  This is not necessarily narcissistic, but often a vehicle of understanding or improvement.  Not all of it will be worth making public or making money from through publication, but some of it can be so insightful and inspiring that diaries and journals have become famous and worthy literature.  The same goes for correspondence, letters full of insight and delight drawn from the desire of two people to read each other’s print in order to get to each other’s mind and heart.  Possibly to share dread and grief.  All is not roses.

What makes such small loops valuable and cherished by a far larger audience over time depends on the circumstances of that audience and what the macro-forces of the cultural and ecological times make crucial.  We have just passed a time when the individual struggle to be independent of the community en masse — family, nation, species has been a necessary and vital concern.  We are now entering a time when the community calls us back together, or possibly some need to create a community, even a community of writers and readers of some kind.  Does this writer’s community include all living things?  They must justify that with stories, descriptions, inter-relationships, pointing out what the struggle does to make the person travel through life in a slightly different way.

Anthropology has given us a taste for these tales, maybe mythic and summoning up meaning for a unique group, and also an interest in material culture of all kinds, particularly those from the ecosystem, the shell beads, the marble busts, the woven woolen intricacy of carpets, the worn leather equipage of horsemen.  Then there’s the weather with its dramatic ability to echo our inner and invisible emotions.

The ultimate how-to course is life itself.

1 comment:

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

This SO valuable piece of print is a blogged column from Elena Ferrante. A column is a published blog. A blog is a streamed column.

Not enough is written about those who are constantly writing in their heads, pushing everything else aside to get it into print or image. Or both.