It’s funny how instinctively people reading something would assume that the writer knows what they’re writing about. It’s as if they believe that they’ve got to have figured out what they were going to write before they actually wrote the tweet, blog post, book, or what-have-you. It’s as if they trust the writer to know where this journey of words is leading them to.
But that’s not always the case.
At least not with this writer.
I often write before I know why, or what, or how.
Writing, for me, is a way of pouring the insides of my thoughts into bits of black and white that somehow communicate the inkling of an idea back to my mind.
Most thoughts exist as wordless, formless, nearly unreal flashes of something in my mind that slip out of the subconscious at the most inopportune moments, enter my cognitive consciousness for a few thrilling and breathless millionths of a second, then threaten to disappear again into some unreachable part of my being.
I often don’t know what those flashes are worth (or even what they mean) until I’ve wooed or manipulated them to come again and again enough times, until I could get a good look at them and determine which other thought should make a baby with it.
At that point, I take those two flashes, push them towards each other (gotta get the spark going, baby), and tell them to get a room.
Then I try to forget about them.
It’s often hard to ignore the sounds they make in that idea-making room, I’m telling you. They’re having a lot of fun making another of themselves together.
Peeking into the room while they’re at it breaks the magic. Catching two thoughts without socially acceptable covering can be a scarring experience. Forgetting about them altogether means the death of that brainchild—or an orphaning, at worst, which happens when the couple leaves you with half-a-flash that you can’t trace back to anything remotely relevant, and you stand there with that baby and wonder if you’re insane for good.
(You probably are, if you’re still reading this. I’m just saying.)
When everything works properly, you know exactly when to tiptoe to the door and ask (politely and softly, always) if you could see what the baby looks like.
The door opens a crack, and your poor mind gets a shock. Because that baby’s never going to be anything you expected it to be. And you never know whether it would beg to be coddled and taken care of like the Little Prince’s single rose, or if it would track you down mercilessly, robotically, until either you or it dies…whichever comes first.
Thinking is fun, don’t get me wrong. Even when the headaches come to stay for a few days as you go through deepthink after deepthink. Even when you have more than one thing happening in more than one room at once. Even when the babies stop breathing before you could see their first smile. Even when two especially fertile flashes gift you, their dutiful servant, with twins or triplets that look very much alike but that you know would end up at each other’s throat if you let them grow into adulthood together.
I try to catch those babies and write them down as they come tumbling out of the rooms in my head onto the reception floor (i.e., the tiny percentage of thoughts I’m conscious of at all, and have the most minuscule amount of control over).
Some are astonishingly healthy and robust right out of the gate, and pretty enough to offer to the world as they are with just a bit of translation and dressing up before making their debut (also known as writing, editing, and publishing).
Some are average-looking, generally healthy, and have all the proper appendages. These get the normal treatment: a few days in the incubator, an early introduction to possible future mates, then off to school with current beliefs, principles, and convictions with which they must learn to co-exist. (Many die here.)
Emotions are then introduced. Some melt before the blazing fires of interest, love, or integrity (or other such noble flame born and nurtured in the human heart) and fade into nothingness, while those that remain neutral are reintroduced into kindergarten.
Some babies are ugly. Some are so ugly I terminate their existence on the spot. The moderately tolerable I poke and torture with past experiences to see how resilient they are to pain and uncertainty. If they hold up, they’re often placed in a waiting room to grow out of their bad looks. (Trust me, make-up doesn’t work. Even if you do some fancy engineering during translation. The paint either washes off real quick, or dries up and starts to crack; or worse, become so thick and hard on said baby’s face you couldn’t tell whether it’s dead or alive.)
Some are immature and end up dying in my arms, leaving me wondering what they could have been had they survived the constant battle over sanity in my conscious mind.
Now, where in the furnace of inspiration was I going with all this?
Oh yes. Writing. And why this writer doesn’t know a <insert a word that rhymes with “spam”> thing about what she’s writing about.
Writing something, anything, can happen at any of these stages.
Dead and pointless writing comes when I take a single flash and simply try to reproduce the exact point with some fancy translation tricks (or, rewording).
A step above this is when I find a mate for that first flash, and explain why they’re a good match, or what their babies could look like (without actually giving them anywhere or anytime to have said baby).
Or, I could sacrifice my peace of mind, some precious mental real estate, and an incalculable, absurdly valuable amount of time to let two separate thoughts have a go at making something new together. (The rate of conception is barely 51%, by the way, since each thought comes with its own ideas of propriety, timing, taste, choice of mate, etc, as well as their individual health, fertility, and maturity levels.) After the baby’s born (granted it’s alive, schooled, and made presentable), it gets transconvoluted into words.
Sometimes I ignore babies on purpose, even when they scream and kick their legs. I sometimes struggle to ignore those who coo and make faces and gurgling noises, though, because cute as they seem, if they have to do all that to get my attention, they’re usually tricksters and counterfeits…
And those that don’t make it? Well, they still exist in my head somewhere, either in the graveyard that feeds nightmares, in the waiting room (a special part of my subconscious mind I regularly stock with intriguing but useless philosophical tidbits growing babies often like to chew on), or in round two (or three) through school, a.k.a. the conscience and what’s left of my rational mind.
Some of them resurrect after a while, which scares the daylights out of babies currently in the presentation room, especially those going through the translation process. They’re scared the resurrected thought would kill them and take over—or worse, join forces and create something else altogether…starting the process all over again.
…Such as the in-presentation thought that began this essay (that writers often do not know what’s coming next) and the resurrected flash (that ideas are created similarly to how you and I were) that resulted in what you have just read.
I guess I’ve proved my point without trying to. Oh well.
(I think I owe your brain an apology at this point. But I’m not sorry, so I won’t say I am.)
At any rate, my secrets are out. You now know how I think, why I write, and how these words were created.
I never know exactly what I’m writing about until I’ve finished writing. Only then do I begin to understand.
And sometimes, not even then.