About Writing

Amanda asks How do you feel about writing? The question demands a little introspection. To examine how I feel about writing, I need to look at what I write about in this blog.

Writing to Remember

Someone once described writing as keeping precious items in a memory box. We collect the baubles and knick-knacks and store them away like gems in a jewelry box. When we get older, we take them out to remember the people, places and events of our life.

I take photos for the same reason. But photos mean different things to those who take them versus those who view them. The viewer makes up his own stories about an image. The taker knows the story behind the image.

Writing allows me to share the story.

Like this Postcard from the Past which describes one of my first adventures in Canada.

Or the time I sipped iced coffee in an old style Vietnamese restaurant and watched a flickering slide show of old Saigon before it fell in 1975.

Writing that is Readable

Writing to capture memory is a selfish endeavor. When I write in a journal, it’s for my eyes only. When I blog, it’s for others to read. Writing to be readable is tricky business.

I once had a writing partner who was a professor who’d published many scholarly papers. Unlike everyone else in our creative writing group, her motivation was not to publish but to be readable. Academic papers, much like technical and legal documents have a representative style that make them incomprehensible to most. She wanted to write papers which were accessible and engaging.

I engage with readers by choosing topics that are relatable. The stories may be personal but I aim for perspectives that are understandable, honest and a little unusual.

Like this encounter with a stranger in Saigon where I am reminded of my relatives and connections to the old world

and this post about customs in East versus West, where there are no carrots in carrot cake and there’s no mango in mangosteen

Writing that is Relevant

The other part of readability is making stories relevant. In these times of unbounded internet and continuous media feeds, we are surrounded with news and information: true, false and modified. But have you noticed how the media is heavily biased towards the negative and sensational? It’s an act of self-preservation to keep ourselves separate from the news.

But every once in a while, I read an article that shortens the distinction between me and them.

Like a post on the political rise of Hmong Americans, an ethnic group I’d photographed in the hill countries of Laos but whose history I’ve never fully appreciated.

Or a headline about military attacks against the Shan states on the border of Myanmar and Thailand when I remembered that I was once there and I knew Pat whose father was a Shan revolutionary.

How do I Feel about Writing?

Some say that writing is a craft that demands practice. Read a lot. Write a lot. They also say that writing should be untapped in the first draft. Get it down fast. Edit it later.

It is great advice but I can’t do it. I write, I edit, I write, wait and edit again. It’s a long process where I waver on the scope and look of a piece. Is it too long? Is it too short? Is it interesting enough? It’s no wonder that when I finally have a completed draft, I feel only relief.

Later when readers comment, I feel gratified for having been read.

Much later on, after I’ve forgotten the piece and stumble upon it, I feel glad for having written it. It’s like finding a familiar object in a memory box. I dust it off, hold it to the light and read it again.

27 Comments

  1. You have such an eclectic mix of topics you write on – it is always fascinating to visit your page, Sandy.

    This post has given me much to think on. “Read a lot. Write a lot” I think many of us forget this first part. To read widely is to be challenged, inspired – I don’t think I do enough of this.

    I read your closing reflection & remark with interest – when I return to older posts, I often am quite surprised that I wrote it. I am fortunately/unfortunately one of those people who forget quite easily & quickly something I’ve read (so re-reading books is a delight because they are only vaguely familiar). It seems that even if I’ve penned the piece, I can surprise myself too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. An excellent memory must be a tedious thing πŸ˜‰ Imagine not having the joy of forgetting and then rediscovering good things a second time! I know how it feels to start reading a book I’ve already read.

      I’m glad you find my topics eclectic and interesting. That encourages me to write some more. I have been on an extended break, but it’s time to dust off my keyboard!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. A wise person (Still Restless Jo) recently said to me that taking a backseat in blogging is as important as keeping on top of things. Hope it was a good break!

        Like

  2. What a lovely trip through some very special blog posts. Some I remember, others I was surprised to read a comment written by none other than myself! Obviously, the memory of reading them has gone, so it was a pleasant read second time around. Is it weird to think that it is akin to feeling a little like one, of the few, positives of having dementia. Everything around you seems novel and new.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Such a thoughtful post that has made me consider why I write too. The sentence that resonated most with me was, ‘Writing allows me to share the story.’ when I started my blog it was mainly with photography in mind, but I soon realised that many of my photos and photo essays demanded explanations if they were to be understood in context rather than as simply a standalone image. So yes, writing allows me to share the story in a way that only sharing a photo doesn’t always do.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Yes, a memory box! I have never thought of this analogy but it rings true. Of course, in fiction we mix real memories and lots of fantasy, which is the fun of it. I really enjoy reading your blog and seeing the photos!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Excellent essay and analysis. I’ll add this: writing is an amazing, pretty mysterious process to me; I can hardly believe that words and thoughts make their way from my head to my keypad. Also, the writing process helps clarify my opinions β€” by thinking/writing about something, I am usually able to eventually realize what my feelings and opinions about it actually are.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Lovely writing, Sandy, and relatable! I too search for relatable topics – not always, but often. In this never-ending flow of content competing for my attention, certain blogs like yours are ones I always click on because I trust it will be good. It’s like you’ve branded yourself a quality blogger 😊

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I think you captured the writing process and how we feel about it for most of us perfectly, Sandy. I like going back to what I’ve written too. It’s like reading another author’s work if you got back far enough, I find. Because I’ve lost all of the memories associated with writing the piece, I guess…and can look at it completely objectively.

    Deb

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Our writing reflect ourselves at a point in time and people change. It’s no wonder that sometimes we don’t recognise ourselves.

      Distance too, gives objectivity. I guess that’s why some writers let pieces sit a while before going back for edits.

      Liked by 1 person

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