Writing with One’s Feet

Not with my hand alone I write:
My foot wants to participate.
Firm and free and bold, my feet
Run across the field – and sheet.

– Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Prelude in Rhymes: 52

After spending much of the last three days cutting up my PhD and putting it back together again, what I take to be Nietzsche’s reminder here of the embodied nature of writing really speaks to me. My neck hurts, I feel sluggish and my back is stiff. This is my body being forced to participate in an aspect of the writing process which is, well, shit. It’s tedious but necessary. In Ecce Homo, his quasi auto-biography, Nietzsche describes how,

my muscular agility has always been at its greatest when my creative energy is flowing most abundantly. The body is inspired: let’s leave the ‘soul’ out of it… I could often be seen dancing; in those days I could be walking around on mountains for seven or eight hours without a trace of tiredness. I slept well and laughed a lot – I was the epitome of sprightliness and patience.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, pg 70

In this case the body is wilfully participating in a creative process, rather than being dragged along unwillingly. Writing can feel good in an embodied way. I find it hard to recognise this in my own experience beyond registering discomforts but I’d like to understand it more than I do. It’s easy to fall into the trap of treating writing as somehow disembodied, even if you would reject such a claim upon reflecting about it. It’s also easy to see writing as a much more exhaustively cognitive process than it actually is.

This could manifest itself in a lack of attentiveness either to your self or your environment, struggling on with the writing in such a way as to aggravate the difficulties which are causing you to flag. So we see problems with ‘writing’ that are actually issues emergent from our environment and/or what we have brought to the task of writing. When we frame creative tasks in terms of problems to be solved, it can often occlude an important dimension to them, which I tend to think of as ‘non-linear creativity’:

Another example in a very specific area is given by a client in a follow-up interview as he explains the different quality that has come about in his creative work. It used to be that he tried to be orderly. “You begin at the beginning and you progress regularly through to the end.” Now he is aware that the process in himself is different. “When I’m working on an idea, the whole idea develops like the latent image coming out when you develop a photograph. It doesn’t start at one edge and fill in over to the other. It comes in all over. At first all you see is the hazy outline, and you wonder what it’s going to be; and then gradually something fits here and something fits there, and pretty soon it all becomes clear – all at once.”

Carl Rogers – On Becoming a Person Pg 152

We can become focused on linear structure (I do X then Y then Z) in a way that occludes the potential forms incipient within what we’re producing. We block the “flow of creative energy” by trying to think our way through difficulties we’ve encountered rather than, as Nietzsche might suggest, writing with our feet.

One thought on “Writing with One’s Feet

  1. As I read through your post, I am thinking that the main ingredient for making the written piece is our “interest”. If we have that, it’s easier to write even it means writing with our feet.

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