Monday, October 6, 2014

Staying Conscious with Millions and Millions of Words

I was sitting here, earlier this morning, contemplating "writing."

More specifically, I was contemplating the fact that I have been writing "actively" since age 13 yet have very little to show for the millions of words I have churned out, over the years.

Maybe that's just the way of the world-- we get in the habit of "going about our business" without staying actively aware of having any specific purpose in doing so.

Because "I'm into that sort of stuff" I did some quick calculations. Going by what I have written in my personal journals, and then on blogs, forums and web sites, and then articles, and not missing years of writing for work-- from being a technical writer to eBay descriptions-- and then the eternal string of email over the past 20 or so years; a conservative estimate would be that I write about 2500 words a day, in some form of writing. String that out across 40 years... and you end up with some 36.5 million words... at least half of which were written by hand.

For comparison's sake, let's consider two massive "bricks" of literature that most people are familiar with (or abhor), to some degree: Tolstoy's "War and Peace" (587,000 words) and Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" (645,000 words). So... I've written "War and Peace" 62 times... If that's too esoteric for you, the 66 books of the King James Bible (Old + New Testaments) have an estimated 788,000 words, so I have written the Bible 46 times... in 40 years.

Of course, I haven't. I'm just playing around with statistics.

To someone who struggles to peck out a 100-word email to their mother, this probably sounds like "evil wizardry." Besides, why would anyone want to? Moreover, why would anyone want to write so much and not turn it into some form of "measurable output," like a Stephen King or Isaac Asimov?

I guess one of the most common responses writers give when asked "why" they write is because they "feel compelled." For me, it has mostly been a case of being able to "think better" in writing than I do in my head, and that I usually "express myself" better in writing than I do by speaking.

On any given day, I probably write more words than I speak. I expect this is because writing is a "slow" way of expressing yourself, and I have a "slow" brain, thanks to something scientifically described as "Sluggish Cognitive Tempo." I just think I have a "slow brain," not a "condition," but what the hay... science likes to put a "name tag" on everything.

But I digress...

What led me to thinking about all this is the fact that I so often give lip service to the idea that "I don't have time to write." Which, of course, is patent nonsense given what I have just outlined above.

So why do I feel like I "don't have time to write?"

This is where we start poking at the essence of the human condition-- and it applies to everything, not just writing:

Being Present and Mindful and Conscious.

What I claim to "not have time to" do is really a statement about feeling like I don't have the energy or inclination to put forth enough effort to write with Presence and Purpose... because that calls for me to be "engaged" rather than allowing me to "zone out." And-- to use some of those 21st century buzzwords-- "Staying Awake" and "Being Present" and "Consciousness" all are a lot of WORK. "Sleeping" is infinitely easier... and that's why we can look at the world and feel like "everyone is sleepwalking through life."

In my case, "writing" is merely a metaphor wrapped around the context of my lament of "not having time."

I can punch out 1000 words of random thoughts in 20 minutes, but to write a "Meaningful and Purposeful piece of prose" (or an article) of the same length takes me hours of concentration. Which reveals that my "real" excuse below the words is that (a) "it's too much work" and (b) "I don't get compensated for it," the latter always being a major consideration when your financial life perpetually hangs by a thread.

So what are the lessons-- the "takeaway"-- from this?

Seems to me that anytime we feel like we "don't have time" to take on some project we really actually want to take on... could be writing, painting, creating a garden, building a sun room, organizing a baseball card collection... what we're really facing is our fear of the "discomfort" of awakening from our comfortable "slumber" to become "active agents" in our own lives; to become "engaged" in what we're doing, rather than just "skating by."

Modern society works against us, in many ways because it is filled with "sleeping pills," from television to junk food to "meaningless busy work" to gossip to Facebook to the relentless pressure to pursue more things rather than good things. The pursuit of "more" is particularly odious because it attempts to trap us on a treadmill where we stay in a state of constantly "flitting between things" without paying real attention to any of them... because "we just don't have TIME."

It is time... to evaluate how we really think about-- and use-- our time.

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