“i never think at all when i write
nobody can do two things at the same time
and do them both well”
-Don Marquis, Archy’s Life of Mehitabel, 1993
Before taking Advanced Composition in my sophomore year I primarily looked at writing through an academic lens. I was very focused on organization, paragraphing, analysis, and all the other necessary elements of formal writing. The extent of my creative writing was slim to nonexistent. If I ever did creative writing, it was always for a school assignment that I considered dumb at the time. Writing was fun for me because I succeeded at it, but I never wrote out of class sorely for my own pleasure. When I started Advanced Comp and I saw all the non-academic pieces we would have to compose, I remember groaning inside. I hardly considered myself creative, so the task of having to create four personal pieces a quarter plus short fiction, poems, and newspaper articles seemed daunting and chore-like. Back then, my writing process was formulaic, precise, and quite frankly boring. I would always have trouble writing enough because I would overthink what I wanted to say before I had even written it out. The sentences I wrote were always perfected before they even arrived on my paper. I overthought about nearly everything I wrote. I would still edit a lot out at the end, but that was more taking out ideas and chunks than actually changing the structure and bones of my writing.
However, the more and more we wrote creatively in Advanced Comp, the more fun I had and the less structured I was while writing. Slowly, I gained confidence creatively as I realized that writing personal pieces was like telling a story in my head and just writing it down on paper play by play. As Marquis said, “i never think at all when i write/ nobody can do two things at the same time/ and do them both well.” I really began to relate to this quote after we wrote our first personal pieces, in particular my piece using imagery to describe my favorite place, the pool. In class we had talked about the madman, the architect, the carpenter, and judge. I unleashed my inner madman for the first time during my pool piece. I didn’t think when I wrote, I just poured everything out. Like never before, I had no filter with what I wrote. I felt the pool; I was basking in the sun and I was feeling the cold rush of the water on my burnt skin. My words just came onto my page like word vomit. I felt like a sink faucet that couldn’t be turned off, my ideas spitting out like flowing water. Now I find that my best ideas are the ones my brain just dumps out without my thinking, like Marquis says. If I tried to slow myself down and compose these craftily beautiful sentences, my ideas wouldn’t be as
raw and pure.
raw and pure.
Last October, I went to the Writing Tutors Conference in George Mason and met many fellow writing center tutors and professors of college writing. In one of my sessions, the college professor told us to write without letting our hand stop moving. At any given second, we had to be writing a word down on paper. If we couldn’t think of what to say, she told us just to keep writing the word “bacon, bacon, bacon” over and over again until we thought of something else to put down. It was actually kind of funny when I would look back in my notebook and see “The lake was shimmering and sparkly like a bacon, bacon, bacon, bacon, bacon new coat of lip gloss.” I took that writing advice to heart, and now when I’m writing creatively a major part of my writing process entails just scribbling down that delicious meaty treat over and over while waiting for the words to come to my pencil. This allows me to let go of my inner desire to overthink because there’s no thinking involved in writing the same five letter word repeatedly. When my hand is moving my ideas are moving too, but without feeling forced or stiff. Like Marquis’s claims, I wouldn’t be able to write well if I was thinking too much.
The thing I perhaps love most about Marquis’s quote is that he doesn’t even bother with capitalization or punctuation in getting his point across. That’s like my original writing process- rough and sloppy. If you look inside my writer’s notebook, you’ll see scribbles, scratches, and doodles all over the sheet. I’ll admit I like to go a little bit crazy, especially when it comes to creative writing. After I thoughtlessly dump all my words out, I can’t even look at the page anymore. I like to leave my writing for a period of time while I usually eat a snack (I’m usually craving bacon). When I come back, I survey the damage, and completely rework everything I’ve written. This is when I let my perfectionist tendencies do what they do best, and I fix the punctuation and grammar and organization and all that jazz. I prefer doing this part on Microsoft Word because then I can cut and paste whole sections around until I find the flow that feels just right. This is the point when I collect myself and my writing, and make my words coherent so that my audience might have a chance of following along.
Before Advanced Comp, my writing process was dry. I would have to sit at my desk with my laptop and type eloquent sentences ready straight for my final copy. Now, my writing process is sloppy and unpredictable. If I hadn’t taken Advanced Composition, I don’t think I would have realized how liberating it is to let my inner non-thinker take over. The more I wrote, the more I saw how my focus on instant perfection was holding my ideas back. Now I am a proud non-thinker, and while my sore and blistered hand might not thank me while it’s scratching away, my writing thanks me in the end.