On Writing: Notes

Why does writing appear to be so closely imbricated with managing the self? This post does not answer that question.


Now I have made a small amount of progress on this paper. I have discovered a way to redefine it, at least for myself, so that it is less intimidating: I will think of it as a series of reviews or a journalistic essay with footnotes, but not as an article. I have discovered a way to handle the linguistic schizophrenia which plagues me (I need to write it in Spanish, but it wants to be written in English): I am storyboarding it in English, and composing from there in Spanish.

“Storyboarding” is what I do for presentations of all kinds, and my presentations are excellent – if I do say so myself – because of my secret storyboarding technique. I have sometimes storyboarded instinctively for writing, and I show the students how to do it often, but I had not realized I could invoke storyboarding actively, to unravel one of my own knots of ideas. Jotting down notes in any language that comes to mind, but then doing the actual composition in the language you need, is another technique I show students regularly, but I had forgotten that I could avail myself of it as well.

Finally, I have decided I have definitely read enough on the topic. I may reread some of my sources, but I will read nothing more unless it absolutely leaps out at me.


Still, it is harrowing. This is partly because it is one of those pieces I did not invent myself: someone needs a piece like this for their book, and I gave a talk like this, so I can write this piece, and the publisher is already lined up, so I really ought to just push it out. It should be easy, but it is precisely this sort of writing situation I find the most difficult: I do not feel free.

It is also because I am not being entirely grown up about this paper. I fear getting into it, because I am afraid that if I do, I will not be able to get out again. I do not want to go into a writing frenzy which might, for instance, cause me to stay up late or smoke cigarettes. I want to live sensibly.

To write (and I do not believe I am writing now, but speaking) is to define yourself, but also to lose yourself; the reason I both like it and dislike it is that I both like and dislike both the finding and the losing. This, although I know perfectly well that when I am truly inside a project, I stop and start easily, and the rest of life hums along on its own.


Lumpenprofessoriat has had an entire series of posts – and comments – and spinoff posts – on the labor theory of blogging, which I would love to delve into but have not (yet) because it would be such a good tool for procrastination. I will say, however, that in my younger days, I experienced academic writing as self expression. I enjoyed it then. At a certain point, however, my academic writing got colonized by, if I am not mistaken, use value. It was all too useful, it fed too many alien machines, and those machines had too many desires which did not harmonize well enough with mine.

At that point, academic writing became work – not only alienated, but alienating, which is the worst of it. Since then, I have done better by refusing to write anything which did not feel like play. . . until, of course, I came flat up against my current piece. If I do not find a way to turn this piece into play, I need to find a way to turn it into a mere memo. To do either, I must take power over it. I have been trying to detach from it but in reality, I need to infuse it with myself.


Perhaps related is the fact that, with texts I assign myself, I always know exactly how much material fits into each. With texts assigned by others, I never think I have enough ideas or material – and only then realize that I have, in fact, too many and too much. What I lack is a way to hierarchize them, a principle by which to add and cut; that is because the assignment is not my own.

I have been telling myself to “make it new,” but I believe the correct instructions would be to make it mine.


10 thoughts on “On Writing: Notes

  1. To write is to define yourself, but also to lose yourself; the reason I both like it and dislike it is that I both like and dislike both the finding and the losing.
    Brilliant! and so delicious to hear from you and to know that Barbie2138 was read and understood. I believe you are the only one who reads it! As for the herbs, I know and use them but had not thought to apply their healing powers to my current woes. Ginger is the miracle cure for upset stomachs. I will go to my supply and apply….
    I would like to share your words with the writing group (Zona Rosa) in Savannah this week-end…
    In the meantime, the fight goes on. I am bent but not broken. This week I am putting my energy into the publishing process and hope to hear from AIM and Greensboro Review about “Crossing” a short story about a young girl who comes of age in the south and learns the hard lesson that crossing some boundaries can be fatal….

  2. Thank you, Chaser! Barbie – you have a writing group called Zona Rosa, and it is in Savannah? I am green with envy – I love the idea of being there vicariously! And it is *cool* re your short story.

    It is interesting: it was from “Reeducation” that I contracted my difficultires with academic writing. My Reeducator was, of course, deluded; he could not believe research was actually a required part of my job; he thought I should do life writing and creative writing and discuss it with women. I said yes, right, nice idea, but academic writing ain’t no mere hobby. And yet, if I had the leisure now, I would try to seriously get into some deeper form of creative writing than this blog. I should perhaps create the leisure for this.

  3. thanks for the link to ‘the paper chase’ – just what i’ve been looking for…

    my current writings have been in apa style but i’ve got the novel half written on my laptop…

  4. Thanks for posting again on this subject.

    It’s interesting to think of blogging as speaking, not writing. Coincidentally I was just rattling on to my wife and I caught myself and realized that I was writing and not speaking. Including revisions. 😦

  5. I think some of my posts are actually written – but some, like this one, are spoken. I not a bad writer, but am a natural speaker and storyteller (Gemini rising and all). This blog was in fact established to establish a transition from speaking to writing, and I keep that purpose in mind although I do let myself relax into easier speech here sometimes – and also despite the fact that one of my erstwhile readers decided the blog was too “cold” because it so tended towards what I call writing!

    But I do think of writing as a kind of sculpture – with residues, of course. Alice Fulton: “I wanted to write this in diamond, but I just had blood.” http://sptc.wordpress.com/2007/05/30/alice-fulton/

  6. “the membranes dividing each from each dissolve; the separate self vanishes into an undifferentiated state[.] (12)

    I wanted to write this in monument, but I just had ink. (27)

    I wanted to write this in diamond, but I just had blood. […] I used paper sacrificed from the gold fingerprints inside trees: high acid foolscap with no watermark. I see, holding to the light a scrap of flimsy, its edge grunged with dust. (39)”

    I love those lines, those are amazing.

    I can live without her fractals and her Indian philosophy. The former I know something about, and I think she is attributing to the fractals characteristics that really belong to people, or to nature in general. Fractals are just a set of arithmetic tricks.

  7. yes you are right. the blogs are perfect for us ‘speaker writers.’ it is much easier for me to write as conversation and go later to apply the technical necessities to make it conform to a specific genre. zona rosa is lead by rosemary daniell. there is a website and her newest book secrets of the zona rosa has a bit about me. other books: fatal flowers, the hurricane season, sleeping with soldiers….etc.

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