How Writing Leads to Thinking

Lynn Hunt is pretty much my new spirit animal. She said everything in this fairly short article that I have every felt about my writing process. She has a lot of the same ideas as Anne Lamott, but, in my opinion, puts them in a way that’s easier to understand and connect to.

Sitting down at a blank computer screen overwhelms me in a very ironic way—I’ve never been able to adequately describe to someone how quite literally nothing can be so drastically terrifying. I always have to have at least the first sentence drafted out in my head before I sit down to write anything. That way, I have a takeoff point and can, from that first sentence, go wherever my brain decides to take me. Often times, I find myself stressing out about my first draft being a complete jumble of different ideas thrown onto the paper. However, similarly to Anne Lamott, Lynn has reassured me that this is okay. You sit down and write not because you have a clear opinion, but instead to figure out more. It’s within the jumble of nothingness (aka my first draft) that I often end up finding everything that I need.

Without a doubt I am the type of writer that hides behind jargon and humor and topics that I am comfortable with. As is the case with almost all human beings, I don’t like being told that something that I am proud of is actually really terrible. I do my best, therefore, to make sure that if I’m letting someone read one of my pieces, it’s a piece that I am completely comfortable with. If I’m going to be honest, this is a total copout and keeps me from writing anything that I have not reached a certain point of “clarity” on that we discussed the first day. Clarity is boring. Really interesting writing comes from sitting down and awkwardly writing about things that we’re unsure about. As Lynn Hunt says, you should be “naked and shivering out on that limb that seems likely to break off and bring you tumbling down into the ignominy of being accused of inadequate research, muddy unoriginal analysis, and clumsy writing.” So yes, I do understand that I need to step out of my lovely cocoon of comfort topics, but often times being naked and shivering on a branch for the world to see does not seem all that appealing.

To wrap up, I am going to work on being less of a happily cocooned and more of a terrified, naked writer and I am going to try to be more okay with knowing that the process is messy.

2 thoughts to “How Writing Leads to Thinking”

  1. Just as you hide behind comfortable topics and clarity, I tend to hide in a different way. It’s awesome that you embrace the sloppiness of the shitty first draft, because that’s something that I have yet to attempt. I hide behind the careful composition of my work and my hesitation to revise, perhaps so much that I fail to discover some of the subconscious ideas waiting to be dug out of a jumbled mess of a draft. We both have different writing processes, but just like you, I will also try to be more OK with knowing that the process is messy. I think this will benefit both of us for the projects in this class.

  2. The blank screen is undoubtedly the most terrifying thing. It can be so crippling just staring at it. If I had to guess I’d say that on average I sit down to write and then get back up to do some chore that “has to be done” at least 5 times before I have a first sentence. I think all writers have to work on shedding their warm cozy cocoon (I know I sure do). Just the other day my housemate asked if he could read one of my short stories and he had to literally bribe me to let him even see the first page. It’s hard to show our work to people, because we know that they will inevitably form thoughts about it (good or bad) and it’s easy to assume they will be bad. So I too will be working on not caring as much both during the first draft and the revision process.

Leave a Reply