If a tree falls in the forrest and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?
What is so unnatural about a tree falling in the woods and why do people care whether or not it makes a sound? My personal opinion is that if the ill-fated tree fell it would make sound, but that fact it is irrelevant unless appreciated by an intelligent creature, (so not a tree). Humans are intelligent beings who tend to create intelligent thought, but so what? Is the sound of the falling tree audacious for being audible? No, it is natural. Are the thoughts of intelligent beings audacious for existing? No, they are natural. To be audacious they must be weighed against some scale-or grade-from “ordinary” to “extraordinary”.
Vincent Van Gogh was a tree in the forest until the echoes of his crashing were heard by an intelligent being who not only weighed his work against a grade of ordinary to extraordinary, but determined that it was in fact audacious. True, the first intelligent being to consider them audacious was Van Gogh himself, but if the tree could comprehend it’s impact and reverberation, would it not find that fall audacious in comparison to it’s existence up to that moment? Further, would not that tree still remain unremarkable to all that did not witness it’s plunge? Further still, how do we know that this is in fact not the actual case of the matter? We don’t. We do not know that a tree falling alone doesn’t marvel at his plight. Nor do we care, because we don’t know.
For every Van Gough, there are hundreds of uncelebrated artists. For every witnessed “timber”, there are thousands of toppled trees. While I don’t believe that the trees give a fig about falling, I do believe that artists crave celebration. Their initial confidence in the audacity of their work may be enough for them, but more likely they wish others to find it audacious. Receiving a C- on a painting would sting more than giving oneself a C- on the same work. But if the C- was not given by the art teacher, no one would have heard one’s tree fall, and no one would have cared. Having witnesses to a falling tree make that irrelevant occurrence interesting, even if the sound is audaciously unpleasant. It is alright to write to please oneself, it is better to write to please both yourself and others; that is why teachers give grades, C for common, B for Better, and A for Audacious.
Strive for the audacious grade, don’t only write for yourself.
My early impression of writing was that it was meant to be smooth and additive the way a sculptor could begin a piece with a lump of clay and continuously add more lumps until satisfied with the result. I could turn in 5 pages of legible brain drain, but I failed to worry about editing beyond punctuation. Later, as I learned to appreciate the complexity of the writing process, my understanding pendulum swung to the other extreme, “writing must be subtractive,” I thought to myself, “Since I am a verbose writer, surely I wont have a problem conjuring up a granite block from which to chisel an articulate paper.”
“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
However writing is no more a Michelangeloian reveal than it is a clay accumulation. I started treating my paper the way Michelangelo treated marble, I wanted to find a cherub in every pebble I wrote. Consequently my paper was too short, subtractive writing begets little writing.
Writing a paper must be like building the Statue of Liberty; a base structure that is both stable and supportive is equivalent to writing an outline, but the more difficult task is making the visible pieces to be both quantitatively sufficient to cover the base, and aesthetically pleasing. My new goal is to balance my freedom as an artist and my conviction as a critic in a net positive manner.
Setting hours for designated writing time can sometimes cramp the flow of ideas by imposing a restrictive mentality, however ignoring the necessity of working during cognizant hours of the day or night is not only a “recipe” for disaster, but also a reason to never enter the kitchen.
Anyone who has cooked anything other than a meringue knows that if you can read you can cook; recipes are easy to follow and provide a prefect coach for the budding chef. Just so being prepared with complied research and a well rested mind are the tools to write. If you approached your paper without research, it would be as mentally restricting as cooking without a recipe. If you approached your paper without a rested mind, it would be as comprehensive as a recipe would be to the average preschooler.
Therefore, writers must equip themselves with ravenous curiosity and regular sleep. If a paper were thought of as a life of it’s own, a pet even, and the author cared for it on a daily basis the way they might do for a cat or dog, it would receive attention/regular hours for writing, food/research, recreation/brain-drain, and sleep. Neglecting a pet is certainly worse than neglecting a paper, but caring for a paper can be equally rewarding because it is an investment. Care for your paper by caring for yourself with timeliness and sleep.
An unanticipated problem I encountered while trying to write an information-saturated paragraph was that while I knew what my conclusions were on the general topic, I was not prepared to write fluidly on the topic because I did not have enough research to write. In hindsight my blunder seems obvious, and I was amazed that the implications of being unprepared hadn’t materialized before my eyes.
Pouring milk into a glass requires the jug to contain milk; pouring ideas onto paper requires your head to contain information.
I was frustrated that words didn’t flow from my brain through my fingers and consequently spent the time originally set apart for writing to find specific quotes from reliable sources, citing them and trying to paraphrase them into my paper as I needed them. The technical nature of the subject required a quote or paraphrase every other sentence and after failing to write my allotted paragraph in the allotted time, I abandoned that practice and began filing new quotes in an Excel document. Once I had built a reliable base from which I could draw specific information as needed, writing fairly returned to my standard flow thought.
Cheating myself out of writing fluidly by economizing on my research time quickly circled back to haunt me. To write both effectively and productively, I must approach the keyboard armed with both time and copious amount of orderly, compiled research to reference.
We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers. A man thinking or working is always alone, let him be where he will.
Henry David Thoreau
Not to be remiss of Thoreau’s meaning -that no outsider can think alongside a man in his own head so the body might as well be alone too- but I think it is melodramatically poetic and deserves to be confined to poetry. Writing can as easily be a social and cooperative occupation as a solitary one.
My best friend of many years called from Ohio to employ my brain on an essay of hers; the material was not difficult but she felt lost trying to compose a logical outline, so together we tore the subject apart and rebuilt it as easily as if we were still erecting sandcastles on Potato Lake. After she was satisfied with our production, we lapsed into busy silence; each with our own papers and the Skype call left open between us.
While this dilemma was her’s and not mine, the incident dispelled my unspoken adage: always work alone. Writing probably shall remain a Thoreauian exploit due to unavailability of willing company, however the presence of others will no longer be an impediment to my writing, rather a resource.