a valediction: of writing
November 2, 2012 § 3 Comments
I joke that becoming a professional student of language has made me functionally illiterate. That’s hyperbolic, of course (I’m writing a blog post, aren’t I?), but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.
I’ve forgotten how to read.
I used to be an avid practitioner of research reading as a way of putting off writing. Then I began to be inundated with all the messages about what a noxious practice that is. Write first thing! Write every day! Safeguard your writing time! Your writing time is precious to you; your writing time is even sacred! You are a writer! Write!
If you’re not writing, it’s because you’re procrastinating. It’s because you’re afraid of writing, so you’re avoiding it. If you’re not writing, you’re not being productive.
In the time since I became ABD, I have radically overinternalized these messages. And I have forgotten how to read.
And you know, it’s funny, but it turns out that it’s really hard to write when you haven’t read anything to write about.
Part of this is a task-management problem that comes with the transition from coursework and examinations (where one is either having one’s hand held or having an axe held over one’s head, or both). Part of it is the result of a semitraumatic prospectus experience. Part of it is the same old problem I’ve always had about self-motivation and accountability.
And part of it is a really shitty definition of “writing.”
In my capacity as a writing tutor, I spend a lot of time coaching students on how to prepare to craft an essay. Marking up the texts they’re using. Pulling quotations and playing with them spatially. Drawing out every possible meaning of a given word in a given passage. Scribbling notes. Making diagrams. Figuring it out. This is reading. But obviously, so obviously I forgot how to see it, this is also writing. We who are students of language know that reading and writing often amount to much the same activity. We know it because it is immediately, observably true. But somehow, I forgot.*
Writing is not reducible to essaycraft – to the late stages of rhetoric in which paragraphs begin to form and connect to each other. This is the message I need to internalize now.
I have a few serious deadlines coming up very shortly, for which I need to generate some very good writing, and generate it very fast. (And reader, it is a serious understatement to say that fast does not appear anywhere in my skillset.) So this strategy is counterintuitive – but in order to write what I need to write, I am going to forbid myself to write. At least, for the next several days I will forbid myself to write in the sense of “crafting prose.”
I am going to read. And it will not be avoidant and it will not be procrastination. It will be productive. And I will not let my jerkbrain tell me otherwise.
* This – well, this and cold hard cash – is also why I dedicate four hours of every week to my tutoring job. Helping my students with their writing helps me to remember what I need to know about my own.