Words are a powerful thing for us, but it is quite interesting to consider how they come to be our primary form of communications.
For those reading this article in English, please consider the rudimentary fact that all of our words, all of our grandiose and eloquent ideas, are derived from a simple set of 26 letters (not including those numbers and punctuation marks we love so dear)
With these simple 26 letters, a master of writing could craft masterpieces and treaties designed to evoke timeless wonders and spontaneous horrors within our mind. With these building blocks, we create monuments that will be echoed throughout eternity. Just as four base pairs, adenine, thymine, guanine and cytosine, create the vast variation found in all of life; just as the 119(!) elements make up all of matter; just as the six flavors of quarks, up, down, top, bottom, strange and charm, make up those elements, perhaps the beauty in our alphabet comes from its flexibility and diversity. Each year, words are being created or modified, as usage changes, or some artful gal finds a particularly creative way of wielding them.
Everyone knows how to use these tools; what could truly make an impact is the way you use them.
And that is the story of writing.
To me, the art of words is the single most powerful thing that humankind has created, because of how words can illustrate powerful images in the reader’s mind, long after the original author has passed away. It is a way for people to break out of their lonely little shells and discover others who have those same terrible existential questions. And above all, it is a way to celebrate, to rejoice in communion, or to share in sorrow. Writing is the crux of civilization and the zenith of human creativity.
But to be such a powerful thing, you have to get crafty. Even if you understood every single detail of how our nucleic acids operate, you wouldn’t get the complete picture by only studying the as and cs, ts and gs. Instead, you have to understand how they interact and shape each other and how the synthesis of many creates a single, unified, amazing being.
Writing is not only about letters; it is about the words.
Average Americans comprehend the meaning of over 50,000 words, even though there are between than 1 million – 2 million English words in existence. Those words capture all the nuances of life, each with just a slightly different connotation that could be absolutely critical while writing. Word choice is absolutely critical to set the tone, the mood, and the everything about a piece or article.
But even if you are an amazing person who is able to precisely use all 2 million words, that would still not guarantee a perfectly readable, crystal clear article that will actually be enjoyed. For many, including myself, our favorite poems are in basic, every day words that are crafted just right.
If words are the building blocks of language, then form and structure make up the actual structures.
The ebb and flow of the article, while not immediately apparent, tends to reveal itself as the most fascinating parts of a writer’s piece and style. Possessed with a larger view of the idea, the author can call into life handpicked words to create his or her vision. The words just seem to fit in to the cycles of feeling that are imbued into the piece.
Beyond these basic topics there is an entire literary world out there, with figurative language as the spice of life, syntax and grammar governing it and making logical sense, and the author’s style coherent through the entirety of the piece.
But enough about these individual parts. What really matters are the ideas that construct the piece.
Writing is so diverse and has numerous applications, but most people only see the descriptive power of words, where words could describe a person, place or thing, or maybe state the ideas in one’s mind. However, writing has the capability to be so much more.
Anyone, if given enough time or perhaps enough of an incentive, can “write” about a scene that they are observing or perhaps of a memory that occurred a fortnight ago. And yet, even if they are describing the exact same event, readers can tell who writes better, or perhaps which author they like better. They might not be able to pinpoint what is so special about that piece, but for some reason the article tends to call out to the reader, as if begging to be read.
Our words have a hidden power, but it is up to us to unlock it.
It isn’t just about presenting a single idea or view, because being in the actual moment will allow you to capture more information than countless volumes of the topic would ever evoke. If you actually simulated the events that occurred in James Joyce’s Ulysses, you would notice details that could never be captured in words. Thankfully, words aren’t only meant to do this, but are rather carefully selected to convey a greater purpose, a feeling that is not in the ordinary.
Like art, writing is a way of presenting the ordinary in a particular way. By framing the event, with exact choice of words or tone, s/he conveys much more. S/he creates tone and style and motifs that transgress the realm of the setting and into the individual imaginations of the reader, transforming into completely different idea for the individual.
Perhaps that is the goal of a writer, not to present a topic, but to present a thought to be pondered on. I do not know about others, but I feel best when people interact with what I write, presenting their own view of it. Even if you shout and protest, it still means you actually pondered my humble ideas, so thus my goal has been reached.
But how does one achieve that skill? How could you become a skilled writer to evoke emotion upon ideas?
One of the first things that I found was that the difference between a good writer and an excellent writer is similar to the difference between a good photographer and an excellent photographer. A mediocre photographer may be able to get one or two good shots a month, when the stars line up just right or when the sun is just in the right position. They have the rudimentary skills to capture that moment.
An excellent photographer creates that moment.
Every one of their pictures was crafted and framed within their minds, as they contemplated the lighting and contrast and balance and so many more things that I do not understand but so very much appreciated. To an outsider, they have this sixth sense for what is pleasing and what is not, and they act upon it until they find their vision.
Similarly, a good writer should be able to capture a particularly exquisite moment in time, but an excellent writer can infuse just a daily thought with the wonders of the past and the future. For these people, there is no such thing as a boring moment or a tedious chore. Look at Robert Frost’s “plain” poetry, or some of the truly excellent blogs. They have the sense to turn the ordinary, extraordinary.
So to get that sense, practice! If there is nothing else I believe in life, I think that the only way to become good at anything is to invest that precious commodity we call “time” into it. It means writing by the glow of the moonlight, writing as the last candle stub burns out, writing when the world is falling apart around you and all you have left is this longing within your soul to share your inner most horrors. Even as your fingers fall off from the weariness, even as your head aches from the sheer stress of it all, only by persisting under all kinds of conditions will you get to be better.
Personally, it is my habit to almost word-vomit in a sense, where, struck by sudden “inspiration”, I spring into action and write and write and write, producing 2000 words if the moon is angled just right, and perhaps if there is a looming deadline overhead! But there is so much that I despise about myself in this: writing is really something done over an extended period of time, where you mull over the words slowly in your head until something just clicks. But even beyond that, all those little moments of clarity are really the accumulation of a lifetime of experiences, and every moment of brilliant shining joy comes with the shadow of fear beforehand.
Putting those thoughts onto paper can be a toiling, thankless task. It can be one of so much pain and of so much heartache, especially when you run into that good ol’ writer’s block. Sometimes, it just feels as if you are stuck in such doldrums that you can’t even think. Even more painful is the moment when you have to go back and revise everything that you wrote. Somewhat similar to that feeling you get when you look back at yourself 10 years ago and laugh, you just glance back and think “How on Earth did that ever make sense to me?”
But just write! Do it unapologetically. Do it for yourself. Do it for others. Just do it.
Each time you write, you impart a little bit of yourself onto the paper in front of you. A bit of your soul is kept on the page long after you’ve departed, but at the same time, you are left with some more ink stains on your heart. The process is a balance of giving and receiving, changing and being transformed, learning and teaching.
But now, this post isn’t exactly titled “writing”, although that was my primary thought. Instead, I’m going to try to deal with the larger topic of presenting. When an idea comes to be, it isn’t exactly “written” into existence, but first thought of, then polished, and the presented to the community for review. Scientific papers are not merely accepted; they must be presented to groups of peers and thus carefully reviewed. Half of the idea is in the way that it seems to be “dressed up”, in a sense.
Even this idea, that ideas are not only in what they express, but in the way that they are expressed, is a radically different one than what many tend to accept. “Oh, as long as you had the thought, you can go anywhere!” But truly, having a good style is just as important. Just like Stephen Fry’s perspective of how proper grammar has its time and place, so does the proper tone and style of a piece.
I recently attended a seminar about data presenting, a rather famous “data visualizer”, and the biggest lesson that I took out of it is that aesthetics is key. Aesthetics, beauty; simplicity, harmony. There are infinitely many ideas out there, but sometimes we can find the crème of the crop by finding how it is presented to us.
Presenting transcends a moment; it is a lifetime of who you are and who you will be. It’s those little quirks that make you you, and those idiosyncrasies that come to define your style.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that you are locked in to where you are now. I, for instance, quite despise some of the words that come crashing out, or the awkward way that I tend to waddle around when speaking to someone, or those odd little quirks where I put “perhaps” and “…” and really weird parallel structure everywhere. Before beginning to write this piece, I made the mistake of actually looked over all the years of blog posts that I have done so in the past. Thoughts that were jotted down here in this temporal spot on the World Wide Web as well as other pieces scattered through private domains, hidden notebooks and secret diaries. I looked over those memories of innocent youth, of raw pride and of transparent desire.
There was so much there that I would have begged anyone with a Time-Turner or a TARDIS to go back and fix, but I realize that I can’t. I can’t change my past to what I want it to be now.
But what I can do is so much greater.
I can change the here and the now, the two most important places for anyone on Earth. I can dream and hope for the vast plains of the unwritten future, depicting a greater city rising in the distance. I can discover and I can leap in joy, I can weep and I can explode and I can be whatever I want to be.
I can make my mark upon the world, with my pen ripping a gash onto the wild barren sea. My craft, so insignificant in the parts, becomes something greater than myself in its whole.
And then it is done.
I am presented.
It seems a bit fitting that I can perhaps devote a bit of this post to perhaps actually *blog* a bit and word vomit and all those things that I promised to not do earlier. I’ve had this idea, of posting something about the experience of blogging or writing ever since the very start of summer, where I was feeling super crushed by indecision and everything, but those thoughts just never resolved in my head. It was honestly through an entire summer of experiences that anything started to congelate here, and even then it was draining to write. I’ve probably spent more time reviewing and just facepalming at this one piece than writing, say, about 10 other short bits and rants.
But now, I stand here with a full 100 published posts behind me, which is sorta cuckoo for a guy who starts of strong and quickly fades so often. I’m starting to find a voice of my own, even when words escape me in the real world. And I’m starting to learn and to do all these things that I would have never seen myself become.
Perhaps the best thing about all of this is discovering our own selves. It’s like that typical literary cliché, where you go out on a quest, face challenges, and ultimately realize something about yourself that is the true goal all along. Well, it is a cliché not just because it is easy to write about, but because it often is so relatable. I’ll attest to that.
I’m also writing this close to the “Sunday of summer”, where those foolishly optimistic hopes at the end of June are slowly evaporating away. Yet looking to the start of school, I think it might be time to begin reinventing myself a little, to perhaps open up or learn new things, things not restricted to that which could be known but things closer to the heart. It’s time to practice what I preach and live to love.
Staring into the future is a daunting task, but we could only possibly do it when we remove ourselves from the limitations of our past. It’s something that every person must face, whether if they choose to do so bravely or if they choose to only reluctantly catch glimpses. But what I love so much about this little ordinary life that I live out every day is that I hold in my hands the power to change everything. I can do what I want to do and can be who I want to be. No, I will be that image set off in my mind, the future that is always a decade away. I will be me.
(note: this is what happens when you begin word vomiting…unreadable junk that you don’t know how it came to be but it just feels so right after it’s done)
So thanks for sticking with me so far. Here is to a new and brighter year.