Writing As A Creative Activity

Writing is not a natural activity for most individuals.  Many do not see the connection between hand and eye and hand and pen.  There has always been a disjunction between brain and eye, going from internal imagination to external vision or projection.  When we think of some image we actually project that image using the occipital lobe where visual information is first processed.  But to connect to the use of the hand requires connections to the cerebellum and other parts of the brain that control both the large scale muscle movements and the fine scale muscle movements.  Increased dexterity takes years to control sufficiently to form any mastery of hand and eye coordination.  That long and extremely complex train of actions from the image (and sound, for we tend to hear the words we wish to use in our auditory nerve system) of words being written by the fingers holding a pen or pencil and moving the point with sufficient dexterity to form those words in rows across a formerly blank sheet of paper is as unnatural as needlepoint to the human body.  When our public schools, at the urging of the teachers and administrators advocated the elimination of writing as a requirement, arguing that everyone should have keyboard skills instead, they removed from their students that ability to produce complex thought as an expression of creativity.

The best typists can, on an electric or electronic keyboard, reproduce words at the rate of sixty five to seventy five each minute.  Think about that detail.  We can reproduce intelligible speech orally at a rate of approximately two hundred words a minute, perhaps four hundred if we are pushed into short bursts of speed.  Anything beyond four hundred words a minute even for a short duration of several minutes quickly becomes meaningless sound or noise.  Most of the human population can read at approximately four hundred words a minute although I would tend to put that figure far lower for may reasons.  Writing, and not printing, a legible script is difficult.  The act takes a great deal of practice and concentration.  I hated all those exercises I had to do in grade school.  Fourth grade was my introduction to cursive writing.  No the funny thing about those early years was when I was in the second grade and learning how to print my mind was set on cursive.  I never quite figures out the system for I didn’t have access to the Palmer Method examples, but my printing was filled with serifs and other curlicues attached to those awful stick letters.

As you can see, writing is a creative activity.Throughout the past centuries writing, and in particular, cursive writing, is what separated the gentry from the rabble.  Rabble that could read and write were dangerous, they might acquire dangerous ideas, or at least the same ideas that the gentry had such easy access to and yet could not avail sufficient thought to understanding.  Even in Europe today a man’s character, or a woman’s, for we would not like to leave either sex out of the argument, was often intuited, if incorrectly, from the example of their cursive writing or hand.  In the private schools, yes they were public schools but not for the masses, remember who paid the bill, students were set to the task of copying out great quantities of script.  The work copied was usually filled with moral rectitude and other fine points of gracious living so that one might be fit to rule the rabble in whatever capacity one was given.  For the rabble the social media of the day was the local tavern where a great many often ate and drank the common food and drink of the day.  We often think that taverns were large places, but in truth, the establishments might well have been a family home where others gathered and bought food and drink such as was offered.  You can find this example in Mexico in the smaller villages where every block has several houses open as little eateries, serving lunch and maybe breakfast, sometimes dinner.  Each village has plenty of Hole-in-the-wall places.  Small business at its finest and without government involvement or interference.  No business license and no taxes.

Writing is the noble profession simply because it was done by the nobility and their heirs.  The son of a poor man might become a priest but only a few centuries ago the main method of teaching the common priest his profession was through rote memorization.  In the sixteenth century very few priests could read but they had memorized the bible verse by verse and could quote it accurately.  Many monks and friars who copied manuscripts could not read what they were copying.  Should it surprise you, then, that reading and writing were the two god given possession to the nobility and then later to the merchantman?  The merchant was, by way of economic necessity, according a rank slightly below nobility.  Money speaks volumes, as it was written.  But even the nobility was not at ease with their great gift and many, because of either temperament or unsuitability of mind and learning (every noble family has its idiots and below standards offspring) and guided into the appropriate profession, usually the military.  One learns how to soldier through rote training, by the numbers, literally.

That leaves us with a small percentage of the population that: one, has access to an education that included reading and writing; and two, that had the leisure for such occupations.  Art cannot be done on an assembly line, else novels could be churned out indiscriminately.  Yes, I know, computers can write it all now but I doubt they could do Twain or Dos Passos or Algren.  Computers can copy are but seldom can they create it, and no, don’t even think of fractals, that is mathematical formula.  Today we think of writing as an art that only includes fiction and poetry.  Yet the art of writing far transcends such narrow thought.  We have colleges and universities and other academic institutions for the production of the arts.  The fine arts of painting, ceramics, sculpture, and so forth churn out tons and tons of would be artists, all vying to tell the public what art is and why everything the artist does should be revered.  That is an idea that has always been a collection of material that has fallen from the rearmost end of horses.  The assumption is that only the artist knows what real art is and the public, in general, would know art from that same horse’s physical rear extremity.  It’s a game only idiots play.  So these institutions of higher learning churn out hundreds of tons of artists as if they were suppose to meet wartime production quotas.

Not that these same institutions have done us any favors in the filed of writing and literature.  Yes, we do love to stake a distinct difference between mere writing and literature, as if literature was something far more worthy of god or critic or whomever.  Today I could take the average graduate of any masters program in English and Literature and give them the task of writing a manual for the operation of a metal lathe or milling machine and very few of them could actually write one that would be: one readable; two, accurate; and three, concise.  Yet they can tell me all about allegory and the failures of the English Romantic period as opposed to the modernist period.  I was reading on one young woman’s blog an exercise she had done in which she started out using the Romantic voice and allowed it to destroy itself in that modern sense of reductio ad absurdum.  It was an interesting idea but its execution was very boring. She took grave exception to my comments.  Technically she can write but what she writes is boring.  Technically I can draw well, taught myself the ability to reproduce line and a bit of composition.  But I am not an artist in the sense that I can create what is commonly called a work of art.  Nor do I pretend I can.  And there are any number of individuals who have blogs proclaiming their love of writing and after reading their labors of love I have only one question.  Why do you have language, why are you against expression, why do you hate writing so much that you seek to destroy what you say you love with so much sloth?  My god, some of the writing lovers can’t even find simple agreement with their subjects and verbs.  And they surely can’t think.  If they ever had a thought I am sure it died of loneliness.

Why is writing an art, and a creative one, at that?  Writing is a permanent extension of thought processes.  Buck before the Greeks and others spoiled civilization by inventing writing the history of the known world and all of the unknown worlds was transmitted through memory.  Story telling was an art and if one was good enough, a profession.  Can you imagine keeping so much information in your head at your beck and call?  Writing was the invention of Cliff Notes for the world.  You could distill down all that knowledge and put it into a permanent memory.  More than that, as a technology it allowed you to leverage your ability to know and think.  You didn’t have to spend years and years committing to memory all that you wanted to know and think about.  You could concentrate of the core, the structure of knowledge and leave the details on the paper in a volume on a shelf in a library.  Writing allows you the freedom to think.  And when you think, you create thought,  Write it down for further reference or development.  How well a man or woman thinks is reflected in his or her writing.  Writing that is unclear, lacks order in its presentation, or is boring tells you a great deal of the character of the individual who produced it.

This is why we hail the best textbooks as examples of great writing.  Being able to express one’s ideas succinctly and with interest, meaning the use of complex and compound sentences in addition to the simply, is, to a degree, an art that one learns.  One learns allegory so one can use it to express ideas that are difficult to put in very precise language.  I love the scene in the film Champagne Fo Ceasar when Bottomly is describing Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.  Human understanding comes from the use of writing techniques,  Even symbolic logic uses simile, A is to B as C is to D.  We have this wonderful wealth of technique that we teach more as literary theory and yet should be discovered as abstract thinking.  Writing is creative only when we let it be creative, when we let our brains come out to play in the sunshine and flowers and roll about the grass in the park.  Mark Twain said of would be writers, a man should write of three or four years.  If after that time no one pays him to write, maybe he was destined to cut wood for a living.  So, perhaps if after four years of college in an English and literature program you can’t find someone to pay you for being a writer then perhaps you just aren’t cut out to be one and a couple years of masters courses won’t make any difference.

As for myself, I am a writer.  I have written technical literature and technical course work.  I have that facility to take information and make it understandable.  When it comes to fiction, well, that genre is different.  The problem is understanding the story.  Thinking about telling a story is not so easy as it might look.  One uses most of the same tools as one would in writing that story and the two share the same structure.  But oral storytelling is, in my mind, a little easier.  We learn to gossip, to exchange information.  We normally dislike the common gossip, you know the one.  He or she delivers the information without interest, with out entertainment.  So we learn to be a little more entertaining when we gossip, put more than a perfunctory tone on the information.  I may dish dirt but if I do it in a highly entertaining way it is no longer dirt and perhaps not so hurtful.  Entertainment is an act of creation even when you do the same song and dance for the millionth time.  When it ceases to be entertaining you lose your audience and your reason for entertaining.  This is why writing is a creative art form.  All of life is about the story.

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