The unconscious fluency of writing

This thoughtful piece from Richard Seymour captures something which fascinates me about the writing process. He describes this as an unconscious fluency which enables writing to work, even if writing is simultaneously a deliberate and purposive activity:

I doubt anyone begins a piece of writing with the rules in mind. Writing is a conscious, effortful process, but most of what works in writing is unconscious fluency. You start, not even with a completed thought, but often enough with a single word or phrase, or a mood, or a tune stuck in your head, that establishes a rhythm. You scarcely think about it. If you’re raging, the words come flying out by the quiverful. If you’re mournful, they’re as slow as tears. The rules come later, as cues during the editorial clean-up.

I often think of what C Wright Mills termed “the feel of an idea” in relation to writing. In my experience this is what provides an occasion for writing, in the sense of constituting the time when it takes place. I feel the germ of an idea, a vague sense of inchoate promise which I’m inclined to pick at in a spirit of curiosity. If I write at this point then the words flow quickly and easily. If you’re an experienced touch typer then writing a few hundred words only takes a matter of minutes.

What matters is having something to say in the first place. The feel of an idea is how I know I have something to say. It sounds like Richard’s experience is broader than mine in so far as that my writing is only ever motivated by curiosity or practical requirement. The problem I increasingly face is ensuring the two overlap. But part of becoming a confident writer is learning about your own moral psychology of writing.

This is not to suggest that I’m a particularly accomplished writer but it’s often a pleasure and (almost) never an ordeal for me to write. I’m far from alone in this but the recognition this trait is unevenly distributed raises the question of how we might better teach it, supporting people in developing a writing practice which brings joy to their life rather than being a site of stress and anxiety.

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