I've been thinking about the subject of writing lately--why, how and for whom writers write, how and when one finds one's unique voice and what part feedback plays or doesn't play in all this.
"I say what I think must be said" (Derrida)
(Why does one feel compelled to write, in poetry, fiction, or non-fiction, about this particular thing and not that? And in this particular way and not another?)
"I turned a corner into my interior self. I wasn't writing exterior stuff [anymore] ... I was writing for me." (Bradbury)
(Who is one writing for?)
Jacques Derrida, On the Fear of Writing
Noam Chomsky considered Derrida an example of "obscurantism"--although admitting he may simply be incapable of understanding Derrida (which he doubts), and in fact, he (Derrida) is extremely difficult to read. But in this video he talks, quite casually, about the dream-like state into which we slip while losing consciousness (as in falling to sleep) as being the place our true selves emerge, where we can get at the "truth".
When he wrote, in the act of writing itself, it was with the feeling of necessity. He felt driven by a force that was stronger than himself, "that demands that I must write as I write." When he was awake and conscious and working, though, it was as if he were more unconscious than in what he called his "half-sleep"--that state where he claims a kind of vigilance prevailed, a vigilance "that tells me the truth." When he was awake and working, this vigilance was actually asleep.
What truth is he talking about here? In this dream-like state Derrida apparently experienced the fear of writing something "crazy," something that he felt would appear "aggressive" and cause anxiety or "wound" people. The half-asleep yet vigilant part of him told him "This is serious." He ignored this, however, in his waking state and continued writing, as he felt he "must".
This intriqued me on a wholly different level: i.e., the suggestion that one won't necessarily find the answers (to those big, important questions) in one's conscious, 'working' self--that it's actually in the "half-sleep" stage, the dreamlike state when consciousness begins to slip away, that we discover the truth. (That vigilance that prevails, through which we learn the truth--who or what within (or outside) ourselves is conducting the vigilance, though?)
In writing both poetry and fiction/non-fiction, I often feel drawn to, compelled, to write about a certain thing, sometimes in a certain way. I know about the 'force' of which Derrida speaks, but for me it's not so much "that I must write as I write"; it's more "I must write about that", and the how and when of it is left open. Subconsciously, a fear emerges here as well. For Derrida it was concern re: the perceived "aggressiveness" of his theories, that it would cause anxiety or "wound" others. Awake, the compusion ("force") to keep writing took over. But is not this compulsion itself an example of an inner urging, or subconscious directive? Is there a contradiction here, a tension between one's subconscious voices--one compelling one to action; the other advising against it? (Consciously acknowledging an awareness of the existence of this force is one thing; understanding its origin and what drives it, quite another, the truth of it being in the same foggy space where consciousness can't enter.)
Bradbury confesses that all of his stories "that are worth anything" are ones based on a personal metaphor. He recalled an event in his childhood that had profoundly affected him and created a story around it. After finishing the story and reading it back to himself, he says "I broke down in tears. I realized that after ten years of writing, I had finally written something beautiful." It became, for him, a sign of where things would go, vis-a-vis his writing, from then on.
It's interesting, the stories and poems one might consider the most meaningful or one's "best" work that when read by others are met with indifference; and others, written in haste or as a youthful experiment or simply to get something down on paper and 'out there' are accorded praise the writer doesn't deem wholly deserved. Which begs the question again, To or for whom are you writing? Does it matter if it wounds, or bores, or electrifies? Will feedback--positive OR negative--alter your way of writing?
I wonder--do even our innermost selves actually tell us the truth about ourselves? Or do they, too, tell us what they think we want to hear? And at what point in the writing should the self be told to pack up and leave the premises, and let the writing get on with itself? Assuming they are separate, which sometimes isn't clear.
Sometimes you just get tangled up in your own words, too focused on the why and the how or the outcome (speaking for myself here). A friend, with the click of a keyboard key, broke it all down for me today. I'm going to paste this on my computer monitor in the Everything I Need to Know About Writing category:
- Be Yourself.
- No one can tell you how to write or what a writer should be.
- Write until you have said what you want to say and then stop.
Amen to that.