The three philosophies of good writing
Thinking: The first of three philosophies
There are three fundamental philosophies held, either knowingly or not, by good writers.
First, that writing is thinking. It’s as simple as that. To become a better writer, one must be able to sit with thoughts quietly before they become sentences; eat and drink with them; shake their hands and become friendly with them; and also be still while they are present. Only then will those thoughts step forward into the light, from obscurity to clarity.
Being still is key. But that’s easier said than done. In these urban and suburban neighborhoods we call home there’s constant noise; everywhere, visual and auditory inputs demand our attention, immediately. Billboards scream from alongside highways; responsibilities knock on our front door; every day, every minute, and second, it’s something else. We must escape those demands to feel our soul’s heartbeat, a quiet voice that whispers secrets about the true self.
Trees are gentle and quiet, they can help us feel that pulse. Car rides can do the same. So can headphones, coffee shops, sunsets, and long runs.
The second philosophy
Second, there is the act of writing itself. A physical action: fingers pressing letters on a keyboard, a pen scratching the smooth plane of blank paper. It is here those curated thoughts are captured forever, or at least for a period of time.
To become skilled at this documentation, one must be educated in syntax, grammar, sentence structure, proper word usage, and spelling. These skills are the backbone of literary communication, but they are a tool, nothing more.
Often, this second philosophy is elevated above the first. Children are taught from a young age spelling, phonetics, and grammar. It’s drilled into students’ heads through rote memorization, as if that’s why Charles Dickens, Toni Morrison and William Faulkner received such recognition. That is false teaching, because, while the second compliments the first, the first is ultimately more important.
It is possible to relate deep and intellectual thoughts without a strong grasp of writing as skill. And in rare cases, some go on to develop new and unique literary styles because of this.
The third philosophy
However, usually, to be a proficient writer, one must master both philosophies: thinking and technical skill. And that leads us to our third and final philosophy: the connection between thoughts and the pen. This third isn’t defined by right or wrong; rather, there are two specific techniques to this philosophy. And it’s imperative for good writers to master one of these two.
Some great writers create beautiful manuscripts through extensive revision. The connection between the first and second philosophies isn’t instantaneous for these writers. Instead, thoughts are tossed over, refined, and smoothed out many times over.
The other technique is most closely comparable to musical improvisation. In this technique, the writer’s thoughts flow directly as they come, down to the pen: stream of consciousness. As a note, this technique can be used as a way to word vomit onto a page, before revision. But it can also produce unmarred and strong copy, perfectly capturing the ideas of the writer in a single sitting. How quickly those thoughts turn into words on paper depends on the writer’s mastery of the first two philosophies: thinking, and skill at word formation.
If one learns to put into practice these three philosophies, that writer will inevitably become skilled at their craft, and create an active connection with their interior “divine body.”