Saturday, February 20, 2010

Effortful Writing

Sometimes I try too hard when I write.  I read other comments on blogs and try to be as witty as them, or as poignant, or as observant, and end up sounding, instead, like I'm full of it.  The arts are strange in that, if you can see the effort involved in a completed piece, whether it be a painting, or a symphony, or a novel, it loses its desired effect.  The last movement of Mozart's Symphony No. 41 sounds effortless, but how difficult it would be for someone not of Mozart's stature to have written that!  Same goes for the complicated harmonies and mixture of notes in Tristan und Isolde, but when played together, they sound as if they all belong.  The familiar mixed with the new; inevitability mixed with surprise.  The greatest works know how to mix these elements together into a complete and awesome whole.  For the rest, you can see the patches, but not the quilt.

Now, of course, much effort goes into sounding effortless, but if you force the words when writing, they refuse to do your bidding.  The words, the sentences, must flow naturally from the pen, from the keyboard.  If they do not, they sound like a child banging keys on a piano, instead of Beethoven's Appassionata Sonata.

I've also noticed another trend that worries me: I always respond to other people's life stories with stories of my own.  It's how I relate to others, and it's not unusual, but it makes me sound as if I am wresting away attention from them and placing it on me, rather than emphasizing their unique experiences.  I read those comments of mine and wince.  And, somehow, their experiences always seem to relate to some experience I had in Japan (more in conversations than in writing, but it does happen in writing, as well).  Well, it was my last great adventure, it continues to have a powerful impact on my life, and it didn't happen that long ago.  Still, I feel sometimes as if I alienate people when I compare their everyday existence to something that happened to me on the other side of the world--as if I can't relate their day-to-day experiences to my own.

Writing is transparent; it often reveals things that even the author wants to stay hidden.  Having read my London diary entries recently (in their entirety), I noticed how often I wrote down that I tried to get a picture with other people.  How needy I sound in those entries!  Am I needy still?  Is that what continues to plague me in my comments--a need for everyone to notice me, to appreciate me, to want to be seen with me?  I don't know.

Flannery O'Connor once wrote (or said), "I write to discover what I know."  I would add that I also write to discover who I am.  In fact, this blog is nothing more or less than my thinking aloud.  Sometimes my thoughts are complete, and can be read with clarity.  Other times they are half-formed, and fumble around in the dark, looking for the light.  Whether in embryonic form or in mature form, however, my thoughts are always searching, searching, for what lies beyond my comprehension, what lies within, and how to make everything I come across look as effortless as breathing.


  1. Interesting by virtue of unaffectedness and honesty of expression!!

  2. You should have seen the rough draft. >:-O

  3. We all would like to relate our own experiences to those of others. It's the ego, and it is human.

    There is nothing wrong with that and like a well known saying: it's not what it is, but how you go about it.

    Words come easiest to me when I just jot them down as they form, and leave them alone if they are not there.

    Trust that whatever do come to you is valuable, and don't ever apologize for it.

    If you often find yourself with post-writing regrets...try writing things down, then leaving them for a while. Come back after doing something else and read them again, and you may get a new perspective.

    But yes, don't apologize. Your experiences are what make you unique.

  4. I am so there! You have articulated what I feel so often... {about trying too hard to write.}


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.