Back in the late Sixties when the prog rock is still in its infancy and late Keith Emerson who became huge of the power trio Emerson, Lake & Palmer, was still a member of The Nice, he came up with a song “Diary of an Empty Day”, that included the lyrics:
“I want to write words to this music
But my head’s all set to refuse it
I can’t think of words to this music
No reason or rhyme to abuse it
I can’t think what to say
My mind’s a blank today
I could write a book this way
A diary to an empty day
I could write a book
Fourteen lines in fourteen days”.
Well, it might not be just a blank ‘empty’ day, it might be one when you don’t want to write, or just are not supposed to, for some reason or other. So, after all, what should the writers do on such days?
Write anyway! Usually, those days turn into the days of waiting, days of expectations, days of anxiety and such days always bring up writing ideas, ideas that would probably get lost, or modified in some way or other before you record them.
On the other hand, the truly blank days, actually just seem that way. The less you are concentrated on what you are writing at the moment, the more other ideas, for other writings crop up, something that you can turn to when the right time comes around.
Being so tied to the thinking process, writing simply doesn’t stop, it flows along with your thoughts. It is just up to you whether you want or can record them down and turn them into a unified set that can be called a poem, an article, a short story, a novel…
Lists, listicles, whatever you want to call them, seem to be all the rage these days. Whether it is the short attention span or time devoted to the reading of today’s readers or Marshall McLuhan’s prophecy that media is becoming the message, with online discourse dictating how and what we read, makes no difference. The fact remains that lists and listicles dominate, and writers have to cope with that as something that will also dictate their writing.
So, if you want to put it in musical terms, whether you prefer rock and you would favour The Killers and their “My Lists” or country, and Toby Keith’s song of the same name, as a writer you would still have to deal with a fact that listicles will be something you’d be requested to write more often than not.
Now, you might be of the opinion that it turns your writing into consumer-ready shopping lists, that it puts constraints on your imagination and style and curtails any free-form writing. But then, who says that you have to limit yourself to writing lists. It is just a fact that they can support your ‘other’ writing, that it in most cases cannot do.
Still, there remains a question whether there is something else to be gained in writing lists besides the financial backing all writers need. As could be expected, there certainly is, besides the fact that any writing is better than no writing at all.
You can approach writing listicles as if you are writing pieces of ‘flash non-fiction’ grouped together. That would mean that you have to be quite succinct, both in your thinking and writing process, concentrating your thought process to come up with as much essence in as least number of words and sentences as possible.
In many ways, that purifies both your thinking processes and your writing of anything you might do without. Applied to your ‘ordinary’ writing it will most probably make it clearer and easier to read and understand. And that is not only for your readers' sake — it will clearly show you whether your ideas have been translated into writing the way they should be.
When you think of ‘old ways’, the first thing that comes to mind is conservatives in some form or other, going back to something familiar, ‘tried and tested. sticking to what you know. Somehow, it seems that everybody takes that approach at some point or other, no matter of their way of thinking or age.
Even a usually forward-thinking, and now at a forward age singer/songwriter Neil Young made a song and an album called “Old Ways”.
But what would happen if approach old ways in a more literal manner, as a process of retracing your steps with an outlook on how it can bring benefits for the future?
Of course, for writers that process corresponds primarily with the editing of what they have written, looking hard at all those grammar and spelling mistakes, hard to read sentences and inconsistencies in presenting their thoughts and ideas.
But retracing your writing steps should certainly go beyond that. It is not just looking at what was done wrong, or what could be made easier to read and understand, but what can be done in another way, taking in all the circumstances. And those circumstances include how the writer has evolved personally, how his outlook and ideas and changed all in the respect of how his writing can be better and how he as a person has changed, even if the text is only a day old. That process also includes a look at the ideas, books, art or anything else that has inspired us, what is their place in our mindset now.
In that respect, looking at ‘old ways’, retracing our steps can serve as a source of new, fresh, or refreshed ideas and inspire us to take our writing in new directions, whether they refer to something old, conservative or something completely new.
To learn more about me, please check my LinkedIn page at www.linkedin.com/profile/preview?locale=en_US&trk=prof-0-sb-preview-primary-button.