On honesty and my creative process
I got the question “what is your creative writing process?” via a private channel. Below is my reply. The identity of my correspondent remains private, while this is shared with permission.
There is a technique in painting known as alla prima, meaning “at the first [attempt]”. The artist starts a painting and finalises it in one go. They won’t let the oil colours dry and will only lay more strokes on top of them while they are still wet. It is all done in a state of flux. The end result is a product of the moment. My writings over the last years are alla prima as well: they are written in a single session.
My technique is not spontaneous though, if by “spontaneous” we mean just sitting and writing random words. (Nor is the painter spontaneous in this regard.) I do think carefully about the topics I cover. Though I never put premature thoughts into writing. I do not take what I call “prior notes” and never keep records of incomplete ideas. I do not maintain an outline of topics to cover and do not use to-do lists or anything to that end. For my work, prior notes hold me hostage to a version of myself that was not yet aware of the relevant concepts. I don’t want relatively “ignorant me” to dictate or foreshadow what “knowledgeable me” will do.
Instead of capturing prior notes, I walk. I walk a lot. This is literal, but also figurative as in remaining aloof. I keep an idea in the background while I go hiking. It is “there” and is taking form, though I do not bring it to the foreground. I let it grow organically until it is ready. In the meantime, I will enjoy the moments that nature gives me: the calmness of the forest, the vastness of the horizon, the playfulness of the birds, the company of my dog. It is all I can get.
Walking keeps me focused on the immediate experience, while it leaves sufficient space for the background concepts to mature. I am not troubled by anything else and can thus expend my energy in a way that works for me.
Until the idea is finalised in my head, it is only mentioned in tangential works. I basically leave hints here and there of what I am thinking about, until I eventually dedicate a standalone publication to it.
The physical exercise, in combination with my discipline, and my strict, healthy habits, keeps me sharp. The body and the mind are part of the same system. Their distinct names are analytical constructs for us to communicate. I can create because my condition makes it possible. To put it poetically, the soul needs a vessel through which it is expressed, so I might as well take care of it.
When I do write, I deliver what is a snapshot of myself. I want it to have logical as well as emotional coherence. There is spiritual unity embedded therein. It is who I am in that moment. The authentic me, unencumbered by perfectionist concerns or fancies of appearing in a certain way to a given audience.
For me, this coherence is consistent with my philosophy-as-practice, which is based on patience and is made manifest with honesty. I have observed that if I write, say, three paragraphs on a given topic right now, and three more on the same topic in a month from now, they will differ considerably. Maybe a third party cannot notice, but I do. Why they differ? Because of all the factors that contribute to my mood, ability to write, state of knowledge, and so on. The authors are essentially different, although both are emanations of this dynamic “I” narrative I am maintaining and continuously developing.
Without coherence of this sort, I have nothing. I feel I am but a robot. The machine may still produce useful works, but it lacks the human element of ad-hoc creativity that I want to incorporate in my publications.
I can afford to do this as I only write for myself on my own website. I do not have a publisher or editor to worry about. There is no contractual obligation. Or obligation of any sort for that matter, as I don’t have a target audience in mind. I do not care if the writing is impeccable—it never is.
I am not counting the technical documentation and my programs as part of the “creative writing process”. Those are produced for the benefit of others, so I have to prioritise usability over other qualities. I still like them for different reasons that are not pertinent to the present entry.
You may have noticed that my video recordings, such as those I do on philosophy, are imperfect. I make errors, mispronounce words, and will even fix a typo while doing the recording. As for the video itself, it is also done alla prima. Yes, even those which are one-hour-long. I simply start and hope for the best.
“Why aren’t the videos of a higher quality?” you may wonder. Because “higher quality” is not authentic, notwithstanding the capabilities of my hardware. The unfiltered version is who I am. If I have to edit a statement ten times, then I do not show you my reality. Imagine the disconnect between the substance of my philosophy and the disgustingly flawless video production that would go with it!
I thus want the viewer/reader/listener to feel my words and behaviour. I am not merely speaking to their mind, but am also connecting with their heart. At least such is my wish. Just as I am authentic, I want to attract honest people, meaning those who will communicate with me in a spirit of dubitativeness and inquisitiveness: not to impress me, not to flatter me, but perhaps to share with me something interesting, something sincere. “Honest people” does not mean that they have to share their identity and/or private life with me. I only want fellow travellers: may they remain hidden behind an alias—it does not bother me.
My works must also be a depiction of me, as I have no other outlet to express myself. They have to offer me that freedom. One part of it is my philosophy, while the other is the practical measures I take to remain sane. Friends disappeared a long time ago, while people in my milieu cannot connect with me: we have different interests, while they never look past my superficial features. To them I only exist as someone who walks but who says nothing beside “hi”. For even when I speak, they do not listen, as they immediately change the subject.
By being honest through my writings, I do what would otherwise be impossible: show myself. In practice, I am invisible and unnoticeable. A random villager in some typical mountain. No-one pays attention to that. There is nothing special about it. Folks need something a bit more fancy. At least such is the bias of those I encounter. I cannot give them good looks, a mesmerising performance, or whatever the “wow” factor is measured in. As for the substance of what I can say, no-one is eager to consider it and to join me in my explorations.
I have never met someone who has the same disposition as I do. Not skill, not mental fortitude, not knowledge, just disposition—it is all I care about. Show me the right attitude! Do it in earnest. The rest is not important.
Those self-professed enlightened fellows who tried to sound profound in order to impress me quickly realised that their gimmicks could not work on me. I would not challenge them as I had hope for them. I would simply speak and they would notice… They probably left in hope of trying their luck on more impressionable listeners. Though I would have been alone even if they had stayed; alone in my endeavours. Not by choice. Not by design. Not because I do not care about people. Loneliness is part of the deal, it seems. So I walk with no clue of where I’m going.
Honesty, then. Who would I be without it? What would I even do?
UPDATE 2022-09-01 09:17 +0300: I explain more about some of these personal themes in my video on philosophy: The presumptive idol of you.