Wherein the Author Does Not Understand
Archived in 2022
Originally posted on 30 Jan 2013
I’m currently working on a big project which involves a lot of writing. The other day I was discussing it with a friend over dinner. I mentioned that, for the most part, the only change needed to the first bit I’d completed was some formatting. He asked:
Doesn’t it slow you down to write correctly?
This stopped me dead in my tracks. It’s been a long time since a question baffled me as much as that one. I had enough time to stammer some sort of “Well, no, I don’t think so, really I just, um” answer before he changed the subject, so I didn’t really get the chance to consider the issue.
I was just thinking about his question again and am still completely flummoxed. To me it implies that it’s expected that the words which hit the page won’t be fit for human consumption, that what’s written will be ugly and incorrect according to English As She Is Spoke.
The thought that it might require additional time and effort to write grammatically correct prose would never have occurred to me and, even as I now consider it, is such a foreign concept that I cannot fathom that such a thing is possible.
I write how I think. These sentences you see before you are the same as the ones which run through my brain. If anything, the only filter they pass through on the way out is one to make them sound less formal and Edwardian than the way I actually think, lest everyone regard me as though I’d grown an extra head. My internal dialog does not split infinitives, does not end sentences with prepositions, does not dangle participles. That’s just the way I’m wired. The order inherent in my thought-sentences pleases me and, since much that I write is for my own benefit, it makes sense that my writing-sentences would be in a similarly self-pleasing style. Writing, for me, is very much a WITIWYG (What I Think Is What You Get) sort of operation.
Which is not to imply that writing is an easy endeavor. The organization of concepts and vocabulary is taxing. Of late my most weary evenings are those which follow a marathon session at the keyboard. The brain is a greedy organ, consuming an immense amount of energy and leaving one sapped of strength at the end. But to have additional processing power and speed required for crafting a correctly-structured turn of phrase? Before my friend’s question I’d not have thought it possible.
Another mental disconnect occurs when I consider that it’s likely that writing a grammatically correct sentence would actually slow down a large number of people. These are individuals who are grammatically correct in conversation, yet this ability must not translate to writing. Am I to understand that the correctness does not slow their speaking but does their writing? Is it because they over-think their writing, believing that they need to write in a style in which they do not normally think, therefore taking additional time in composition that they would not need in conversation? Good writing must read as though you are speaking with the author. To over-think the matter is to create a work unfaithful to yourself and deceptive to your reader. ΓΝΩΘΙ ΣΑΥΤΟΝ, indeed, but then ΕΣΤΩ ΣΑΥΤΟΝ as well.
In truth, I do not understand and the matter now intrigues me. It is not possible to peer within the brain of another to understand the method she or he uses to think and to write. It is not possible to tease out the differences between the two and inspect them. One cannot project another’s process up on the wall and point–A ha! Just so! To wit!–at each element and compare it to one’s own.
And so, lacking data, I am left only with his question, the flotilla of questions which float behind it, and a newfound sense of curiosity for the paths each person takes with his words and how the paths differ by intended destination.