November 22, 2011

beyond labels

Blogger's note: Shae and I met through a mutual friend when we began our Recovering Writers group last year. We approach writing from different avenues, which I love. I'm pleased to have her on the blog, today, to share her perspective.

By Shae Sackman
Guest blogger

I’m visibly uncomfortable when someone brings up my ‘writing.’ Writing implies some extra process, some mindset, some kind of effort outside of the norm to produce something for consumption. Relying on expertise I don’t have, sensibility never developed, and all the plot points I’ve left scribbled in the margins is no substitute for a real story written by someone who lives out the constructed lives of their characters with such care that sometimes they can’t begin and end as a person in a definitive way.

The truth is, I don’t write. I’m not a ‘writer.’ At best, I’m an ardent bookkeeper of my thoughts. At worst, I’m in the middle of a manic upswing and have access to some kind of writing implement. With no means to tell the difference between the two authoring modes, people are haphazardly confronted with a distillation of my thought process, rather than something I’ve crafted for another’s enjoyment.

Assaulted with letters penned in the middle of the night, bombed with one text after another laced with ridiculous metaphor, harassed by emails so tangential a unifying theme is nowhere to be found — sending the sum of the various things my mind churns out is a litmus test, of sorts.

“But that’s still writing, Shae.”

I’ve struggled with labels, rationalizations, people incensed that I don’t think I have ‘talent,’ ‘voice,’ ‘skill,’ or other writerly qualities. Confused that I don’t identify with what they think I am. I don’t fit in writing workshops (I’ve tried. I’m a nth dimensional object trying to scale to a playing board that I literally can’t comprehend), guides have no methods for me to improve, all the practice in the world will not make my words palatable, accessible, or widely read.

I’m not a writer though, so those things don’t matter. But like anyone who does something often to various ends, I want to get better at ‘writing’ what I’m not writing. I asked myself over a year ago, how do you get better at something you don’t technically do?

I decided you study the component parts of what you’re creating.

So I learned about thoughts. Spent time with how the brain transforms idea into written language. Devoured everything I could find on how words grow up into big, strong concepts with which to take over a mind. Branched out endlessly into the topics I find are directly correlated with what I was trying to say, even if no one else sees the connections.

Physics, astronomy, set theory, evolution, and organic chemistry welcomed me into their structured lands, and I fell into worlds full of the concepts I needed to express the complex chain reactions of ideas wandering around my neural paths. Their soothing lexicons and measured structure providing comfort and essential basic compounds I would need to build the experiences I have into tangible, understandable pieces of work for others.

It deviates, then. It's not 'writing' anymore. These are experiments. I can cloak what I'm doing or not doing in a layer of arm's-length. My thoughts become series of hypotheses for testing on others. Sentences become footnotes in research papers, a thesis is drawn out of the hunt for the words that go together unequivocally.

Now, to find someone to grade it.

Check out Shae's blog and follow her on Twitter @hawksley.

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