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The International Writers Magazine: On Writing - From Our Archives
The writing escapade
Marwan Asmar

‘Words and sentences take a life of their own, dancing in front of you, picking themselves up from the gray lines and pages and appealing to your senses and thoughts.'
Writing is a very exciting business, putting pen to paper is an exhilarating experience, you feel your thoughts are being carried away by the strikes you make on the keyboard. After a while the finger tips become numb, but the ideas, thoughts and concepts have a way finding themselves on the computer screen.

Worldwide, writing has long been a captivating phenomenon, a mysterious creation that crosses borders and territories. Despite films, computers, DVDs, the written word stands supreme in the world of creativity, unbeaten and unbound.

Every time writers sit behind the screen, there is inspired reverence for the printed word that stands almost magisterial to the images that we are bombarded by. A sense of awe captivates us as the "mental adrenalin" surges forward in a format expression of thought, and belief with words, short ones, long ones, hyphenated-ones almost outdoing each other for the heart and mind of the reader.

Words, sentences, paragraphs don’t come easy for there is much mental anguish involved in the process of writing. Writers don’t just sit down and write as if it ware notes on a piano, although what comes out in the end could very well be a concerto.

Besides the methodology, the collection of ideas and experiences and then the ordering of them, writing is innate, of many "quirk" habits, attitudes and mannerisms. Many writers are eccentric, they have to be to come out with the intellectual threads of ideas.

Paul Theroux, an American testifies, writers pace up and down, go for long walks, and stare vacuously into the unknown with many talking to themselves. "Many writers I have known talk to themselves. I have this mumbling habit, [and] it has served me well as an imaginative rehearsal for writing," he was quoted to have said once.

And there is the eccentric-like behavior that has also served well. Ideas seem to come in the funniest of places, and whilst doing different things. Some writers get an idea in bed just before going to sleep and quickly get up to write it down so as not to forget it the next morning. I have not got to the point of carrying a notebook, but many others do. It’s essential because ideas and words have a habit of moving in and out of your brain as fast as a whisper!

Others go in a mantle dazzle while standing with ideas gushing into their heads. Take James Thurber, another American humorist. He says he never knows when he is writing. "Sometimes my wife catches me at a party and says ‘damn it, Thurber, stop writing,’ she usually catches me in a middle of a paragraph."

These traits suggest that while writing is pliable, it is a split between the writing hand and the moving brain, both move together in linear form, but at times the brain outpaces the hand.

But besides that, there is a systematic process of mental "reworking", "cajoling", of thinking of which piece goes where, the kind of words that are to be used, are they crisp or flabby and then start building the first few bricks.

The very idea of writing conjures up different images by the writers themselves. The way they talk about the process is different from one writer to another. Take Virginia Woolf for instance. She puts it thus: "As for my next book, I am going to hold myself from writing it till I have it impending in me, grown heavy in my mind like a ripe pear, [and] pendent gravid, asking to be cut or it will fall."

Ideas have to be developed in the mind. They first start as mere scattered words, jumbled up and chaotic and only latter take on some kind of order. From generalities and chaos, an intellectual process starts to develop where ideas start to fall into place and the bricks start to go up slowly and fit into place.

Writing is much like "carpentry" with saws, chisels, hammers, nails and screws, nuts and bolts being the implements of the carpenter's work. The wood is the main body of the text, while the pencils and protractors are on hand to measure widths, lengths, corners and angles to produce the final product to perfection.

These represent also the writer’s stock-in-trade. There is an uncanny similarity between forming an article and a piece of narrative with making a decorative piece as expressed by Earnest Hemingway when he once said "prose is architecture not interior decoration," to express not only the delicate artwork involved in writing prose but its higher vocation.

In words, the chipping away at the wood means coming up with a solid systematic narrative, of ideas methodically following one another, of a beginning, middle and an ending with a sense of anticipation that keeps your heart palpitating. This is what makes a good writer and storey-teller; it is the suspense and dexterity.

A writer keeps hammering the keyboard until he gets his craft in the right order. In the olden days, even now, there used to be a tremendous amount of spilled ink not only on paper, but the fingers would be smudged with blue, black and sometimes red ink to emphasize the complex relationship between the writer and his novel or prose. The chopping and changing is essential improve the stream of consciousness that develops slowly and through endless revisions and drafts. Frequently writers keep at it till ideas are formed into narrative and a coherent package designed to inform, educate and entertain. The chisels and hammers of the writer are his tools to create characters, plots, themes and develop them whilst in journalism it is more or less the same except here you are talking about shorter themes and stories involving ‘leads’, ‘subjects’, ‘angles’, ‘quotes’ and ‘sources’.

As in all narrative writing it is like talking to somebody on paper. The more quotes and characters talking on paper, the more alive your story becomes. Words and sentences take a life of their own, dancing in front of you, picking themselves up from the gray lines and pages and appealing to your senses and thoughts.

The ‘voice of the text’ as Donald Murrey calls it in his book, ‘Writing for Your Readers’, is illuminating. He says voice means "talking with the reader and not at the reader or to the reader."
"The quality of voice is central to lively writing. Readers hear the stories they read, they like the heard quality of writing, the sense of a personal conversation with the writer," is portrayed time and again. This may have increasingly developed in the 20th century and today, simply because the lines of communications have become fiercer and because our lifestyles have changed as people no longer have the time and energy to think about complex sentences and grammatical structures.

Chipping at the words, trimming them down, sharpening them, replacing phrases when one word will do, turning dull narrative into interesting lively prose with the right quotes require skill and writing flare especially when you need to weigh different point of views.

The idea of balance and fairness has to go into the text although with some writers these tend to serve as guises for subjectivity and prejudice and skewed and lop-sided arguments. "They are biased but they don’t look it," a phrase that might be especially heard with journalistic writing.

On the whole however, many see writing as artwork, informing readers, sharpening their knowledge about current affairs, providing a platform for forming their opinion, structures thought, educate and entertain them.
After much polishing, writing comes to have grace and elegance, a "torchlight procession" as Mark Twain once described it. Sentences, phrases and words come to have appeal and impact on the readers. An "air of mysteriousness" develops around the process of writing. Writing is like magic but it needs practice, tenacity and lots of research. The more you research your subject or the more sources you have, the better the final product turns out.

Rather than scratching your head, and writing an article, which becomes the case with more experienced word hands, researching what you want to write about, is always best, so that the final piece maintains its originality and liveliness, while avoiding the clichés that become worn out and tiresome.

Writers are always guilty of repeating themselves, they tell you things that they told you a couple of days ago, and a few days before that, some even tend to blubber as suggested by some of the previous examples. With good grounding as in research, getting the right idea in your head, and correct sources, you can train your mind to think methodically and not repeat yourself.

This is what is actually meant when it is said that the fingers actually type by themselves or move effortlessly, either on paper or on the keyboard. They do that because the mind has already structured the pieces of information, and at the split of a second signals to the fingers to write them down or type them.

So what appears as an effortlessly written piece takes a great deal of time, and experience. Writing and researching allows the mind to "store" banks of knowledge which it uses when the time requires, and a call for different articles and writings. What appears easy is difficult, what appears graceful, requires much effort.

Writing requires the right mood, its one of those activities where one day it can be easy, the other difficult. The grace, elegance, panache and finesse, doesn't always come the first time round even when all the 'basics' of gathering information has been done. Much scribbling or red ink is involved, with words, sentences and paragraphs written time and again, to get the 'smoothness', feel and texture of what you are writing and want to say.

But regardless, writing is a hard and arduous business. Every time you sit at the table, it’s a new experience with all its thrills and heartaches, excitement and trepidation, with a mixture of elation as well as challenges going through your mind and body. The feeling never goes away but always stands lurking in the background, waiting for you to put pen to paper or type on the keyboard!

© Marwan Asmar October 2007

on Reading in Aqaba

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