Friday, October 8, 2010

Writing about Writing

For the first day since starting this project, I am not really motivated to write. The last several days, even when I had little to say, I felt motivated to put words out, and so was able to find something to say. Not so today. Yet here I am anyway: it would hardly to do fail my project only four days in.

Art is interesting that way (and under art here I include everything from writing to painting to singing). To do it well requires not only or even mostly inspiration but rather discipline. The two go hand in hand, of course, but one of them is an intangible, ethereal thing that can burn away like mist in the sun, and the other is something we can choose to engage. Without that choice, inspiration often fails us, because inspiration is often the product of hard work.

Yes, sometimes melodies or posts leap into my head fully formed, needing only to set them down, but far more often the best work I do comes out of the steady discipline of working despite the apparent lack of inspiration. Some of the very best orchestral writing I have ever done seemed rather dull at the time—it was solid, but did not feel very interesting. The perspective of history grants a different view, however, and usually a truer one (at least for those of us without a penchant for coloring our pasts the color of a Colorado sunrise).

So here I am, writing. And the words are flowing. They flow not because I had some well-formed plan for this post, but because I chose to sit down and write anyway. That is simply how art works. Will I look back on this post in a year and think it one of my best? It's unlikely. (Among other things, it's far too self-conscious and self-aware; metacognitive approaches have to be done exceptionally well to stand up to criticism, including the criticism of history.) Nonetheless, I will have achieved a few things when I set aside my computer and turn to other tasks.

First, I will have met the goal that I set for myself: to write every day. Let that goal slip just once, and the project has failed—perhaps not irretrievably, but it has failed nonetheless. I might still make 500 posts by the end of October, and I might even manage to write every other day this month, but success in a project like this is a matter of consistency. Letting a post go by means letting my discipline slack, and even if I "made up" for it later, that would miss the point of the project.

Second, I will have written a post. Not a terribly interesting one, perhaps, though those who enjoy commentary on the artistic and creative process may find a few interesting things to note here, but a post nonetheless.

Third, I will have had the opportunity to sharpen my thoughts on a few interesting points: the role of discipline in the creation of art, the strangeness of writing about writing (and especially writing about the writing that you're currently doing: writing about the writing that you're writing, so to speak), and the general nature of projects like this one. In short, I will have gained something even if no one reads this post.

In some ways, I think that's not unusual. Many people learn by writing. I know that in fleshing out responses to questions I often solidify my own thoughts. It is as though putting pen to paper (or rather, fingers to keyboard) acts as a lens to sharpen existing ideas, or a crucible through which those ideas have the dross expunged until what remains is much clearer and cleaner than what I started with. Strange, perhaps, but I think many people work this way. Otherwise, journaling in general and blogging in particular would not be so popular.

Finally, I will have laid the groundwork for a future and more detailed discussion of writing, and even of writing about writing. I promise not to spend too much time on metacognition, though, as I think the subject would quickly grow stale. In fact, I will make a commitment to myself as well as to you, my readers, not to discuss the issue again for two weeks. That should help keep things interesting.

Now: off to take care of a few things before Jaimie and I drive up to Tulsa to see the inimitable Trace Bundy in concert tonight. It should make for an excellent date!

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