Advent Blog Day 23: Writing – as opposed to writing

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A few years ago I was fortunate enough to stop working for ‘the man’ (a local authority actually) and, amongst other things, was able to renew my on-off affair with writing. I won’t give you too much detail about that affair, which at times was pretty sordid.

Hoping this will be useful to someone reading this I want to select just one negative and one positive from my experience of office work and management, in relation to transitioning to the world of writing, or creativity in general.

So that I can end on a positive, I’ll start with the negative example.

For many years I worked in an office environment and got plenty of practice of formal writing. Written court pleadings, contracts, conveyancing and ultimately ‘house style’ management and Council reports. Pages full of ‘management speak’, persuasive words to articulate and support the wishes of politicians, to explain staff reductions, cost savings, how we may learn with fewer staff to work ‘smarter’ etc., sometimes demonstrating the ability to justify one side or another, depending what employers or clients required. I’m sure you get the picture without me boring you with further explanation.

Having spent so many years doing this, having only gone to a writers’ group for a few months back in the 90s, my brain had got into a non-intuitive mode where ‘telling’ invariably overtook ‘showing’. As a result, when I did become free to write whatever I wanted, I found it difficult to do so in an attractive creative way. I reckon it took me three to four years to re-train my brain and start writing anything that was worthy of submitting for publication.

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Now the good news!

While the creative area of the brain had to be muscle-trained to write more attractively, the complex problem-solving part was well-developed over the years. I learned that there was such an area of the brain through my experience at work. As I got more responsibility the technical problems I faced increased exponentially. I sometimes found myself spending many hours on an issue, exploring it from every angle, but failing to find a solution until I put the file away for a few days and focused on something else. Then, unexpectedly, a resolution of the insoluble problem would start to form in my mind. 

Although unexpected, this was not in any sense ‘out of the blue’. The three necessary elements were: (1) the work that I had done analysing the problem in detail; (2) the area of the brain which I now know to be called the prefrontal cortex which works even when we are not consciously thinking about our problem; and (3) the anterior cingulate cortex which assesses potential solutions and determines whether they are successful.

And guess what! I have found this works for me with creative writing. Some of you may not associate creative writing, especially poetry which is my main interest, with solving complex problems but others of you will understand immediately. For example, having an idea of what you want to say but having to find an effective and original approach which will land a punch or touch gently or please intellectually or artistically – or ideally do more than one of these things – is a challenge if you wish to remain true to your art. 

Sometimes you may feel exhausted to the point of giving up on what you are writing (or indeed completing whatever type of artistic work is yours). If you have worked hard, tried and re-tried, but still apparently failed, it may be that you do have to give up, but only for a little while. 

If the work does have a potential successful outcome there is a very good chance it will come to you when you are doing something else. I base that view partly on my own experience (in creative writing, as well as formal writing) but also on the functionality of these areas of the human brain, as described above.

All I can say is – try it for yourself and I wish you great success!

4 Comments

  1. I think this is why it’s important that we try to juggle a few balls at once, so that when we’ve reached the problem part for one thing, we can hop onto the next task, and this isn’t to procrastinate on the first task.

    Instead, it’s to move the problem to another processing part of the brain.

    Maybe I’ll give this a go and try letting up on the gas every time I reach a problem. Thanks for sharing!

    Like

    1. Sorry for the delay in getting back to you Stuart. I think you make a good point. If you have several projects current or on the ‘to do’ list, it’s easier to justify extricating yourself from the fruitless pursuit of a solution to one specific and complex matter which needs time to ‘marinade’

      Like

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