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On Writing

1 June 2013
Michal Blumenfeld Sagi
notebook and pencile

For whom am I writing?

If those writing here on a regular basis ask themselves: who am I writing to? They will probably discover that the deepest, most honest answer is: to myself. Writing is a method of self expression and enables connecting to an inner chord, to raise thoughts that dwell on a deep level, maybe even a hidden one that are difficult to hear when immersed in the flow of daily routines and tasks. Many writers tell of a high connection that takes place during the writing, as if a channel in them has opened, a channel connecting them to a place normally not accessible. This channel has an almost meditative quality to it and reveals to it things of which we were unaware. Writing is a powerful tool of self-discovery. Every publishing writer started out with writing for him or herself. Likewise, any writer can start publishing. Many writers realize that this internal dialogue is insufficient, as we are social animals and as such crave a dialogue with others.


So, for whom am I really writing to?

As soon as we succeed in creating something real, touching and valuable to us it will usually be valued by others as well. Thus communication is created and we discover the power in our writing.


Communicating does not mean to ingratiate oneself. From my experience, when we try to endear ourselves to others we force something unnatural upon the writing, which as a result suffers from a touch of superficiality. When we write from our inner self we are honest and true. This truth and honesty generates identification on other's behalf. People are generally similar and if we succeed to describe something real in our experience or phrase our unique perception we will be surprised how much others will identify. If what we write is more professional and less personal, it's important to know who are our potential reader is, yet also in this case it is recommended to refrain from attempting to endear ourselves to the reader(s). This will keep your writing authentic and effective. In writing, like in life, the most important thing is to keep it real.


Who's scared of the subconscious?

Writing is a gentle waltz between the conscious and subconscious. Sometimes, the idea reaches us subconsciously and sometimes we predetermine what to write about and when we begin to write unexpected ideas begin to flow in. We want our subconscious to come into the picture, because that's when the magic happens. In order to let this magic happen, we need to let ourselves lose some control. This means that if we were assigned to write a blog about cats and when writing we find ourselves musing about our aunt's house, that's fine. Even if we have seemingly diverted from the subject, our subconscious has chosen to lead us there intentionally and has message for us. How do we receive this message? We need to let go, not be scared and let our subconscious to lead the way. We can later try and organize our thoughts and formulate the text.

In the 20th century, the stream of consciousness school of writers emerged with great writers such as James Joyce. This free association style enriches our writing. There is usually something very real about something written this way. Following this, we can organize the text and allow the 'adult in charge' i.e. our conscious to edit it. Generally speaking, it is recommended to stabilize the skeleton, trace the structure and only then delve into the details and nuances.


Criticism: a love-hate relationship

Great, amazing, stupendous. We all like compliments. During the initiative steps of a publishing writer's path, compliments are vital and assist the writer in building up his/her self esteem. Careless negative criticism can lead to the writer retreating to his private quarters eternally. It's unpleasant to receive negative criticism in any field, but when what we wrote is criticized we perceive this as a personal criticism of ourselves. Every criticism we receive enfolds a personal element (you didn't like my suggestion? My pasta isn't El Dante?) Yet other fields also involve an element of skill and experience, if a teacher teaches a class and receives less-than-perfect feedback, the worst case scenario is that he/she might say to her/himself: I guess I'm not a good teacher. When you share personal experiences and are told they are not good, one must be cautious not to decide: I guess I'm not good.

Compliments are tricky as well. An experienced writer enjoys compliments yet knows that they will not take him anywhere. A writer wishing to evolve learns to value constructive criticism. When we are offered to change something we wrote and improve it, most of us defend each word as if our life depends on each coma. With time, we learn not to fall in love with our own words and to let go of them: the final result is what's important, not any specific word or phrasing.

An experienced writer learns from personal experience that less is more. If we say more in less words, the text's sophistication and power are increased.

Constructive criticism is important and in order for us to make the most of it is recommended to internalize the following rule: during the writing process, don’t think about the critics or the readers. At this point, only I exist in the world and I mend the text only according to my own opinion regarding my work. Thinking of external criticism at this stage can only paralyze the writer or make the writer attempt to please others, causing his writing appear unauthentic.

When what we wrote is eventually published and we need to deal with criticism, the second phase begins. In order to pass this phase unharmed, it is recommended to go through a process of 'disconnecting' from my words, i.e. view them from the eyes of a reader. This might be 'my baby' but as soon as it was 'birthed' it is better to let go. Instead of reacting defensively to critics, try listening. This will help us as writers. Be cautious and do not identify what critics say of the text as something said about you. (They said the text was infantile and unfunny? I'm mature and very funny!).


So, where does it come form, the inspiration?

Every writer knows the question: where do you get ideas? And the answer is: where not? Anything can inspire us. The world is full of stories and ideas just waiting for us. Sometimes a new perception on known things generates inspiration. The muse is elusive and is hard to seduce. She does not tell us when she plans to arrive, so you need to patiently wait for her. Writers develop with time another channel, an open sensor that views the world alertly awaiting something to occur. If we decided, for example, to write a blog about a certain subject, we will suddenly discover that many things that relate to the subject simply happen to us. It can be an interesting character at a café, a funny sentence someone said or even an annoying incident at the line to government office can arouse creativity (bureaucracy inspired Kafka to write masterpieces).

Writing is great fun a

s well as hard work. Sometimes, writing is an ongoing frustration. You just sit there and don't give up. You can write and erase, write and discard and right when you're ready to give up, it comes to you. The muse has arrived. The magic happens.


There is no writing without writer's block

What happens when the magic doesn't happen? Yes, this is a possible scenario. When does temporary despair become writer's block, and how do we deal with one? The first step is to understand that writer's block is an integral part of the writing process. There is no need to panic and most importantly: don't give up.

Try discovering what helps you write. A certain view from the window? The sounds of a café? Music? Absolute silence? And what about time? When do you write best? Is it 3 AM when everyone is sleeping (if we wake up at night with an idea, we better have a notebook beside our bed, since ideas don't stay till the morning) or is 5 AM, waking up before everyone? Even when we discovered these optimal settings, writer's block will still happen as it is an integral part of the process. We are not writing workers, we are writers. So, what can we do?

Sometimes, we're simply too close. Like a writer that needs to take three steps back in order to see how the brushstrokes become a picture. Sometimes we understand that we are simply going the wrong direction. Do not fear rethinking the whole thing over.

A writer is first and foremost someone who knows to discard. If the writer's block commences, it is wise to distance yourself from the writing for a while. Do something else. The conscious will let go, yet the subconscious will keep on working and will provide us with the breakthrough. Another route to take is persisting while changing an atmosphere. Try relocating your writing process to a park or beach. Sometimes the idea comes with the people who pass by. There is also value to printing the material. A printed page enables seeing things unseen on screen. I don't have a logical explanation for the last statement, except that the muses are here with us since ancient Greece-so they might not be big fans of technology… 

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