Thursday, August 14, 2014

Rebounding off Bad Writing

To start a new piece of writing, I sometimes pick up a book by an author I'm not particularly wild about. Nothing drastically wrong (it's not actually "bad") with this writer (the individual is acclaimed), but I don't care for certain structural choices of this writer, choices which leave cracks all across the text. I've held these views about X. for quite awhile, so my hold on the rope of my opinion is pretty secure, my opinions seemingly stable. 

I sit on the porch and slowly start reading from X.'s book until my own phrases begin to rise from the cracks and fault lines I perceive in the passage. Some of my phrases are in reaction to the author while other phrases are actually influenced (and sound like) her. It's like I am imitating mannerisms of a person I normally find off-putting; I can't help myself all of a sudden. These are phrases I will want to walk right past, to deny as fast as possible.

But this is great practice in mindful writing in a few regards. First, it helps me let go of a fixed idea I could be holding of a project: predetermined notions are particularly problematic in those initial stages of Invention.

It's practice in tolerating writing that I produce that I don't find interesting or good. In this way, it helps develop equanimity, accepting my words with hushed judgement.

It's also practice in dropping the ego, in not "looking good" (even if at the moment of writing the only person I might be showing off to is myself--no one else in the room). It's like sitting on a bench next to a Gucci-clad younger woman when you're wearing the same over-washed hiking pants of the previous thirty days of your trip.

Finally, this exercise amplifies by contrast: amid the blemished, dented, trite, or misworded piles this book by X. has evoked in me, there will arise a phrase that I do find interesting. When this happens, the new phrase will shine all that more vividly, my welcome at seeing it is all that more pronounced. I'm off running. And sometimes, sometimes, I carry a little bit of that other writer with me, a few of his or her cracks, and am even grateful for the change in my appearance.

Image: graphics-berkeley-edu

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