[Writing Tips] What Is Writing?

Welcome to a Wombat's Writing Tips article. Check out the main page for more.

We talk about writing, but how often do we sit back and think about what writing actually is?

Buy it.
Read it.
Good stuff.
My favorite definition of writing comes from Stephen King at the start of the "What Writing Is" section in his excellent book On Writing:
"Telepathy, of course."
I hadn't thought of writing that way before I read On Writing, but the idea clicked into place and now I can't think of it any other way. An author's mind forms an idea. The author chooses words and records them with the intent of recreating the same idea in the mind of the reader. The reader reads the author's work, and the idea - fundamentally the same idea - blooms in a different mind.

Ideas? Easy. Telepathy? Hard.
Every amateur writer asks the same question of an established author, "Where do you get your ideas?" Ideas are the easy part. Expressing them effectively challenges every writer. The work of creation lies in turning an idea into a work of art. Why do we call them works of art? Because they require work: intent, focus, and monumental effort. Also blood, sweat, and tears.

What, you think telepathy just comes naturally? Think again, and then get to work learning how to pack your thoughts into words. I'll get into choosing words without thesaurus shock in a future article, so stay tuned.

Increase this complexity
by an order of magnitude.
That's writing for you.
The Biological Metaphor
Writing acts as a symbolic representation of an idea's DNA. Letters and punctuation are our atoms pulled together into words akin to amino acids. We string words together into sentences, roughly like chromosomes. When the work is finished, we all see the entire strand of your idea's DNA ready for transmission. Ideas are viruses in a symbiotic relationship with our minds - ideas can't replicate or change without us, and our minds grow richer and more fertile with each new idea.

Just like with DNA, mutations occur. I mean this both in a physical sense where subsequent versions of a book get edited and updated, and in an idealogical sense where the idea transmitted by a particular piece of writing changes depending on the reader. In the latter case, the author has very little control over how the reader will receive the idea. You can say how you intended an idea to come across, but you can't dictate how an idea is actually perceived by the reader.

Here's the thing about ideas: MUTATIONS ARE SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN. How do we get new ideas? By learning about and combining other ideas. In the RPG world, nothing exemplifies this mutation process more than rules hacking and homebrew campaigns. The OSR movement reinterprets classic rules and changes them slightly to achieve different effects. Fate was originally a hack of Fudge. Taking an idea and extending or remixing it fuels creativity. Eventually you'll mutate far enough away from your pool of existing ideas that you create something seen as totally original.

Leaps vs. Steps
So many tiny steps, one giant leap.
We place such a premium on breakthrough paradigm shifts that we neglect the tweaks and tiny innovations in the groundwork that made the new paradigm possible. Once you let an idea into the wild, it will change whether you want it to or not. You can fight the change, quashing creativity and upholding the integrity of your original work through legal action and threats, or you can embrace the community and welcome the flood of inspiration that you spawned. I know which path I'd choose.

Don't be afraid to read comments on your work. The nasty ones will hurt, but I think the risk of pain is worth finding the people who groove on your ideas. Once you find the groovy people and encourage them to create, and collaborate to make the next great thing.

Thanks for reading!

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