Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Conceptual Metaphors for the Writing Experience

What sorts of metaphors or imagery about writing are you carrying around in your head?

As I've said on previous posts, it's important to consult your intrapersonal or inner dialog in order to write with ease, trust, and fluency. (See the post, "How to Make Contact with Your Inner Dialog" from September 2012, for instance.)

Part of noticing that intrapersonal conversation involves finding out how we talk to ourselves about our writing. So we turn to the intrapersonal to find content but also to find our opinions about the writing process, audience, and our writing ability. Chances are very good that those intrapersonal opinions are having a great deal of influence on a person's writing experience--and ability. It's important then to be mindful of those views we're carrying around because they have a tendency to operate unseen and unheard.

One of the best ways to become mindful of these internal commentaries is to conduct a search for any conceptual metaphors or images pertaining to writing.

Conceptual metaphors organize our everyday functioning: they organize our perceptions and actions. As George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in Metaphors We Live By put it: conceptual metaphors (also called cognitive metaphors) are "pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action,"

More than just a metaphor in a single sentence or line of poetry, conceptual metaphors are large conglomerates of thought. As Philip Eubanks describes them, they are "metaphor expressions [that] recruit larger metaphoric concepts." An easy example is the conceptual metaphor in English that "Time is Money." Behind this three-word metaphoric phrase is an influential belief of common assumption; it has the potential to change what you do in the next hour or how you go about the rest of your adult life.

Or your adult writing life.

Let's turn to a few common words for different aspects or moments in the writing process.

While each of these is not a metaphoric phrase per se, they each contain an image or association, in part because of their connotative language:


We regularly use these terms to talk about writing, yet each of them carries around usually unrecognized assumptions and views about what it means to write.

Draft: breezy, temporary, fleeting, insubstantial, invisible (notice only its effects). As one of my graduate students also said--draft, as in pulling a draft beer (a volume, abundance, a small sample from a much larger supply).

So those could be connotations of "draft," but what might be the effect of those connotations?

(One way to figure this out is to come up with alternatives or synonyms for a word. A synonym for "draft" would be "stage." How is "stage" different in what it suggests than "draft"? By finding alternatives, you can better notice the original language.)

Well, for one, if we carry around the idea of an early stage of a composition as fleeting, this could correspond nicely with the sense of impermanence, if we are of the Buddhist mindset. That breeziness or invisibility, however, could make early writing seem hard to catch--and increase the difficulty of starting out on a piece. Then again, if draft is like pulling from a keg, this suggests a big inner supply.

Each of the words on that list (and many others) can be explored. Please tell us what you think. What are the connotations of those ordinary words about writing? What sorts of imagery do they contain for you? After you find an image or connotation for one of the words, ask yourself, "What could be the impact on my writing experience of that image or connotation?" Send along your comments below.

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