From the heart via the hands – the how and the why of writing

Why do you write? How do you write? This post looks at the why and the how of writing. My friends Heather Bussing, Mic Wright and Neil Morrison – each of whom writes both regularly and well – have kindly contributed a few words on their own experiences as writers. I also share some choice quotations from the writings of Ellison Bloomfield and one Neil Gaiman.

I love to write. I feel I can express my thoughts via the written word with a clarity that too often escapes me in speech. I can relate to the words that my Australian friend Ellison Bloomfield shared a few years back, in a lovely blog post entitled For the love of words:  

“I write as easily as I breathe." 

At its best, writing becomes a flow state. As natural and as easy as breathing. The words are already there. Putting them down on paper or virtual paper takes no effort whatsoever.  

My writing self

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It’s always a treat when my California-based friend Heather Bussing shares her words with the world. I asked Heather about how and why she writes. Heather says:

"I don’t write every day. I wish I did, but I’m just not that brave. Or self-indulgent. Or something.

"I love to write. I often learn something new just by sitting still long enough to think a whole uninterrupted thought.  

"Sometimes, I find myself saying exactly what I need to hear. My writing self is more considered, wiser, and often knows things my more impulsive surface self hasn’t even bothered to ask.

"Someone once told me: ‘Your spoken words go straight from your brain out of your mouth. But written words come from your hands and must go through your heart.’

"I think I’ve spent a lot of time listening to words coming out of people’s mouths, including my own. I’m still working up the courage to know more about what’s in my heart.”

I love how Heather sees her “writing self” as almost a separate entity from her “more impulsive surface” self. Again, I can relate. And I am very taken by the image of the words we write flowing from the hands via the heart.

Where do the words we write come from?

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When words flow out onto the page, they don’t feel like they are coming from the conscious mind. The heart is as good a name as any for their possible point of origin.

So much of writing is done when you are not writing. Over the past few years, I have loved the weekly discipline of blogging in the early hours of a Saturday morning. I see this blog as an enjoyable pastime, a way to clarify my thoughts, let out and put a lid on whatever has been occupying my mind over the preceding week. It’s also just so nice to write for the sheer hell of it.  

A post can be sparked by a word or a thought early on in the week. These thoughts and inspirations percolate in my subconscious over the week. On good weeks, when I sit down to write on Saturday, I write exactly what I want to say (although if you were to ask me to explain it out loud, I might stumble).

For me, words come most easily in the quiet, early hours of the morning. This is proving to be the case as I write this now, in the pre-dawn moments of Saturday 28 April 2018, strong coffee to hand.

The why and how of writing is unique to each writer. What’s true for me when it comes to writing may not be true for anyone else.

No right or wrong way to write

As with any creative act, there is no right or wrong way to write. You can write for any reason. You can write any time, any place, anywhere. Everyone that writes regularly will have their own reasons for writing, and their own preferred ways to write.

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Columnist, (soon to be published) novelist, poet, PR company head, constant Twitterer – it’s fair to say that writing is a key part of Mic Wright’s life. Here’s what Mic penned when I asked him about his relationship to writing:

“I write because it’s what I’m good at. I write because I had a great English teacher – Mrs Waddington – who encouraged me when I was young. I write because there are issues I think need to be raised. I write because it’s my only reliable way to make money!”

For Mic Wright, writing is a pleasure, a release and a necessity. Writing can also be a compulsion (and, mercifully, a healthy one at that).

You just write

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My friend Neil Morrison is an exceptionally good blogger. His writing is always clear, direct, thought-provoking and highly individual. He writes because he is compelled to, not because he has to. He has been at this blogging game for more than a decade now. Year in, year out, Neil always has a brand-new post out at 8am each Monday morning. This takes some dedication. When I asked him about the how and the why of his writing, he had this say:

“Some weeks I have that fear, it’s Sunday and I need to write something for Monday morning – like knowing you have to get out of bed to go for a run, when all you want to do is sleep. After ten years, I know the only way out is through, you just write.

"I never edit or rework, what’s written is just written straight into the machine, it’s a blog not the New York Times. At the end of the day it’s my choice, I write because I want to. And it’s your choice whether you agree with what I say or not.”  

This is writing at its purest. Writing as an essential part of life, a good habit to get into, a lifelong discipline of purest self-expression.

Life versus writing

But what happens when life itself gets in the way of the need to write?

My thoughts have turned to the why and the how of writing this week following an early morning Twitter exchange on Tuesday (24 April 2018) with none other than novelist and comic writer Neil Gaiman. I saw Gaiman tweet about one of life’s necessities (sleep – that darned Sandman) interrupting the flow of words:

“Just realised it’s almost 2 am here. Time to stop writing.”

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I asked him how he resumes writing the next day. This can be a thorny one for any writer.*

“How do you tend to leave the writing for picking up the next day? Stop midway through a paragraph or even a sentence? Leave notes for the following morning? Or just see which direction the words take you the next day? Pleasant dreams, whichever approach you take!”

I didn’t expect to him to reply, but Mr Gaiman was so generous as to tweet me back.  

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“Have a sort of idea where it goes next and hope it goes there the next time I do.”

I very much like Mr Gaiman’s approach here. It allows for an overarching structure and direction for one’s words to follow. Yet it also leaves so much space for the imagination and chance to work their own unique magic. The words you write will take you where you need to go.

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If you love to write, whether for a living or for pleasure, out of necessity, or as a pastime, please do get in touch and let me know what writing means to you. Why and how do you write?  

To close, I’d like to quote some more words from Ellison’s For the love of words post. She expresses perfectly the flow state that we can reach in the very best writing moments:

“When I write I have a freedom and ease I don’t think I have in many other things. It seems strange really, when I talk to someone, I trip, stumble and fall over my words. My brain works faster than my mouth and my words end up in a heap somewhere around my ankles. But when I write I feel like I’m able to express things clearly, concisely and show people who I am.”

FOOTNOTES

* Ernest Hemingway had a simple strategy for the best point to quit writing each day: “Always stop for the day while you still know what will happen next.” John Cleese, meanwhile, believes that the best way through a creative impasse is to stop for the day and sleep on it, as he explains in this excellent talk on creativity (below). He also has great advice on the need to create “boundaries of space and boundaries of time” to allow creativity to flourish. Well worth a watch!

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