The act of writing as a shaper of complicated thinking

by Mr. Sheehy

One of the wonderful things about writing, for me, is the ways in which the world becomes more complicated once it starts coming together on a screen, on paper. Actually most times I write by hand first, and then type after, for a variety of reasons. One of which is there is something very tactile about the experience, the act of holding something in hand, and moving across a page, the actual movement in which I’m more intimately bound rather than just typing away. That does something to me creatively in terms of ideas coming, in terms of even the architecture of a project. But also it gets me away from perfectionism or the self-loathing that too often hovers over and hinders and even smothers my work. The screen brings the constant illusion of perfection. I have notes on concert programs, napkins, restaurant menus, scraps of paper, newspapers . . . I always date them and I love looking through them. Partially it’s to protect myself, so if I stumble on a piece of writing where it’s echoed I know I haven’t taken it, or if I have I would have to give acknowledgment.

With the act of writing, the world can sometimes become so complicated that many times I’m not sure what I believe about something. Time and time again, my beliefs will change as I begin writing. For instance, when the election happened, I quickly said, “Oh these are the reasons for Trump’s win,” and as I began writing—just writing to a writer friend or friends who asked me to explain to them what happened—as I began writing, I began to recognize that it’s a lot more complicated than I thought. And people are more complicated than I thought. Suddenly, the pen outpaces the emotions or the mood. I feel that so often that my immediate response to something is a mood, whereas once I begin writing my response becomes more than mood. It becomes, in a thought, more engaged emotions. So writing becomes a way to remind myself that human beings are irreducibly complex and that they’re deserving of much more than the reductionisms that are often given to them.

Garnette Cadogan