Wednesday, August 8, 2012


A while back someone commented, "It seems as if you write quickly". I nodded yes, then thought, I'm not sure that's true. I don't usually struggle with stringing words together, but some kinds of writing take a ridiculous amount of time. I put the task of figuring out what kinds of writing take time on my back burner.

Then the other day I was talking with a client who's writing a chapter for a text on music therapy. I was helping her figure out how to structure the piece, which addresses a rather controversial issue.  I know nothing about music therapy, of course. So I asked a pile of questions, and it eventually became clear that she had to make an argument that no one has articulated before. "You're used to writing qualitative studies," I told my client, "This is a different kind of writing: it's creative. You have to decipher and define the shape of a new idea, and that can take a long time!"

Uncovering insights and articulating them -- that's not wordsmithing, that's work. Good, hard work.

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One of the first writing tasks for kids when they're little is to summarize something. Putting words on a page is a lot easier when you don't have to think up anything new. Re-tell a story. Explain how something is done. Observe, then describe. All that is simply taking something already in the world and transforming it into words.

And yet life is about a lot more than re-phrasing what's already known. It's about discovery, and un-covery, and synthesis. That's harder. Which is why, for writing, we leave those assignments for later years, when the basics have been mastered.

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It's always astonished me that my most creative act -- having children -- was mainly a matter of cooperation, not effort. Nine months of cooperating with God (or nature, if you see it that way), and then half a day of intense labor.

This tells me that to produce something new requires ample time for ideas to germinate. Most of the real work happens in the dark. Most of the real work happens because of the environment you've prepared; is it conducive to nurturing to new life or ideas or perspectives?

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My mom loves to tell of the day I called home from college and said, in wonder, "You know, I really am creative!" She'd told me all my life that I was, but I didn't believe her until I was out on my own.

I still don't think of creative as a word that applies well to me. But the process of sifting through thoughts and ideas, distilling them, connecting them with disparate thoughts, shaping them into something new, and transforming them into words that others can grasp -- that's good stuff. That's the kind of writing that doesn't come quickly. Though it took a while for me to figure it out.

1 comment:

  1. don't forget that little bit of cooperating with the father of those know, at the beginning?