Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Immersion in Writing

Ever since I started this blog, I’ve been losing one battle after another against procrastination. For the first few posts that I wrote, one of them being on procrastination itself, I perhaps had better, but otherwise useless, excuses. Post #1 was late because I was new to this format of blogging. Post #2 was late because the responsibility for me to post weekly wasn’t immediately established. The next few posts were late because of writer’s block and finding the right topic slowed me down considerably. My reasons for posting late eventually ran out, yet the results remain the same. I’m forcing myself to write this post today, but I’m far from convinced this will put an end to Thursday night blogging.

Whenever I blog, I find it hard to focus on my topic. I look around the room again and again, I think about other things I might be doing, and I stare out the window. I’m fully aware of my surroundings and not fully aware of what I’m writing. Believe me, I try to hold my attention to my work, but it rarely seems to work out the way I want it to. This is not immersion.

That isn’t to say I don’t know what immersion in writing feels like. Occasionally, when everything is going exactly right (the topic is relatable, I have plenty to say on the particular subject, and I'm not being distracted by the train rumbling and screeching passed my building for the hundredth time today, etc.), I’ll become completely focused, the flow of ideas entering my mind outrun the speed I can type, writing temporarily ceases to be difficult, and before I know it, I’ve written a thousand or more words and I’ve lost all track of the time.

When I used to write for fun, which historically was during the summer when I had the time, I’d become immersed enough that I could write several pages before slowing down. That’s probably why my first story grew into the longest writing project I’ve ever done; it was at least three times as long as anything else I’ve ever written (I never finished it, but I’d gladly get back to it someday). It never felt like work. I could write for hours without even realizing I was doing so. While in this intense state of immersion, writing became immensely enjoyable.

Since then, I’ve been trying to induce this immersion in other things I’ve written. In my personal writing, when I’m only trying to get my thoughts out, I have no trouble achieving just that. It becomes the speed of typing, and not the flow of ideas, that prevents me from writing faster. It can almost become frustrating that my hands can’t keep up with my mind; by the time I get to each idea, many others have already been forgotten. Nevertheless, the more immersed I am in what I’m writing, the more enjoyable it becomes. That being said, it’d be helpful to explore how this level of focus can be achieved so I may improve my results in blogging and elsewhere.

The following are some of the factors that may be responsible for immersion in writing: firstly, it has to be personal. Writing style tends to appear most clearly when what’s being written is from the heart, so to speak. Writing by-the-numbers does not make for an enjoyable process or an individualized result. The more rules for content I have to follow, the more writing moves into the work category. Of course, this isn’t always up to the writer and sometimes you have to write what you have to write, but true immersion is less likely to occur under these circumstances.

Second, which relates to first, is the allowance of creativity. This doesn’t have to be an absolute; the lack of guidelines can lead to writer’s block as often as it prevents it. Having a direction is a good thing, but rigidity stifles the process. Being able to address issues in your own way rather than someone else's allows for work you can be proud of and a great sense of accomplishment when everything turns out right.

Lastly, I write best and most productively when I’m not over-thinking the rough draft. The harder I try to perfect my work in this early stage, the more progress begins to stagnate. Self-induced negativity ruins the fun aspects of writing and makes immersion unattainable. It forces a more fixed mindset and raises defensiveness. You may decide early on that the work isn’t at a satisfactory level before anyone, even yourself, sees the end product. At that point, what’s the use of feedback when you’ve already declared your project to be unacceptable? It's difficult to accept input from others when you don't want your work to be criticized. Anyway, that’s just my take on the immersion process.

If I stop to think about it, these factors could be true in a variety of situations. Whenever immersion is desired, you have to make your own choices, reach your own conclusions, look at old problems in new ways, and above all else, you have to open up to the possibility of failure. The more I sweat the details and the more I get wound up in the right vs. wrong way of doing something, the more I start to question the quality of my work. The more I question the quality of my work, the less likely I am to become immersed in what I’m doing. The less immersed I am, the less fun I’m likely to have and the more an activity begins to feel like work.

1 comment:

  1. Let's talk about process first and only get to product afterward. You talked about writing at the keyboard. What about before that? Are you writing in your ahead away from the keyboard then? Might it be that sometimes you think about things with no intention to write down the thinking, but then at some later point you do want to write about it so you can make reference to that prior thinking?

    Still thinking about process, there is a question of what should first be produced when you do get to the keyboard. Do you need some outline of what you are going to do overall and have to write that out? (I don't do this in writing but may do something like this in my head before I get to typing out my prose.) An alternative is that you make it up as you go along, in which case you 'discover' what comes next only after you've written down what precedes it. Put a different way, is there learning during the writing? Or has the learning already happened and the writing is getting the results out so somebody else can know about them? Both sorts of writing are possible, but they are quite different in their process and feel.

    Then there is the issue of proofreading and whether you do that at the same sitting as the initial composing or if you set the stuff aside for a bit so that when you come back to it you do so with fresh eyes.

    This is a very broad strokes view of process. One can get much more elaborate about it and maybe you might want to consider that. Here I will only add one more part to the process, which is about the 'intellectual fodder' that provides the source material for what you will write about. Where does that come from. In my case, I read a variety of stuff. Much of it I read without comment, but then something strikes me, I'm not always sure why, but I pretty much know when it happens. Then I will wrestle with it for a while - away from the keyboard. So your process might need to include how you come up with something to write about and whether you are conscious of that when it is happening.

    Now a brief word about product. There are certain standards about writing that matter for whether the reader can make good meaning out of what you say as a writer and then do so without too much effort. If the reader doesn't get it, or has to work really hard to understand things, you might then conclude that the reader either won't look at your piece much at all or the reader might glance it over but not get what you are after. So the writer has a job to do, as far as making things work from the reader's end. Then the question is whether that job enters at the get go or only at the time of the proofreading.

    Many students at about your age short change both the pre-writing part and the editing part. But I think a real reason for that is that they don't read enough so don't have a frame of mind to empathize with the reader. You do read a lot. You should have developed a sense of taste about what you like to read. If so, the challenge is to reproduce that sense of taste in your writing. Perfectionism can be an obstacle here, but if you generate a decent volume of prose, you do want to be getting better on this score over time. So it is something you can work on.