• Grant Handgis ~ Author/Poet

The Nature of Writing

A recent interview of Natalie Goldberg, by Mark Matousek brought up an interesting issue from the writer's perspective that usually gets little attention. Natalie Goldberg's thesis was simply that writing brings a writer closer to who they are. One of Mark's questions was whether writing was empowering for her. In her answer, she felt that writing brought one to their true mind, being, as she put it, “we mostly live in discursive thinking”. Her description of discursive thinking has to do with the superficiality of our thinking in most instances, such as 'I want this', 'did you see....?' 'what do you think about...?' and other surface conversations.

She believes the practice of writing draws the writer below the surface of the social person, to a deeper connections to what the writer really feels and thinks. A very personal and private domain where there is no social interference with the thinking. She goes on to say that repetition of the writing exercise connects the writer to their truer nature, and over time that truer nature of feelings and thoughts become more solidified, the person then connects more to their true nature. Her secondary thesis was that writing with someone else or in groups is an excellent exercise for all involved, as one tends to become too often lazy when writing alone.

As a writer, I find her first thesis quite compelling, as she believes that the memoir is the mode for the writer to study their mind. The term memoir is a French term meaning memory. Having written a memoir, in two books, I can attest to the fact that one must not merely scan one's memories in chronological order to create some timeline as in an autobiography, but create a personal history of self that goes beyond simple referring to earlier times of one's life. The memoir, then, is an un-scrubbed, straight from the heart account of who one really is. In order to do that, the writer must go deep within their own psyche and drag out the characterization of how one truly views their world, what they believe to be true and real.

There are certainly the many books that are written using discursive dialogue, as platform where substance is lacking, but that, for all practical purposes, is a subjective calculation. One I refrain from utilizing, as a poorly written book garners few readers and needs no introduction. Writing the memoir, for me, was in many ways an exercise in personal freedom, dredging up old memories of the more painful type, opening up one's personal life for public inspection and scrutiny. Dragging everything out into the sunshine in full view of God and everyone was something I thought long and hard on. Once that bell has been rung... well, you don't get to unring it.

Her second thesis to better writing, is the efficacy of writing with others, something I have also done, from time to time, although in my case, the writing was focused on poetry, within a local poet's group. I can't say I became a better poet, but there are a number of circumstances and issues to consider, that fall outside of the shared writing experience. Egos, interruptions, not ready for prime time writing and other things have to be considered. What I took away from her interview was corroboration of my own thinking on writing in general, and how the good writers go beyond the ordinary assumptions about life and the people living it. They dig deeper into their own lives, and pasts, searching for their underlying nature of their feelings and beliefs. What is garnered from this practice is a far more nuanced, yet fuller accounting for their characters, and the storyline. That is something the reader finds out rather quickly when they begin reading a book.


g. Michael Handgis Photography


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