In a fun bit of circular irony, this post was intended for Facebook, to explain why the most anyone will see of me there is likely to be links to posts I make elsewhere (namely here). But due to the exact nature of what I wanted to post there, I can’t do it, and so am posting it here and linking to it.
I want to talk formatting, and Magic, and words, and telepathy, and the specific versus the careless.
Writing is Magic. Not in a Disney sense, not as in a synonym for “dreamy” or “amazing”…though what it can do is pretty amazing. Writing is Magic specifically in that it can do things that would appear to defy our understanding of How Things Work, no matter how much we take this phenomenon for granted.
In On Writing, Steve King gives a lengthy example—which I’m going to paraphrase here, with apologies and thanks to the master—giving specific proof of what Writing can do. He calls it telepathy; I imagine a neuro-psychologist would love to coin some suitably-eloquent and indecipherable wording to explain it; a Catholic priest would call it the God-breathed Word. And here’s what it does.
You and I are not in the same room right now. We are not talking, we are not looking at the same thing. I’m at my desk, typing away, my wife and daughter napping on the couch nearby. You are…somewhere else. And now I am going to think of something, forming the image in my mind. And now I am going to type out a Word:
And now, you have an image of a table in your mind. Without a word being spoken, without being in the same place, looking at the same thing, I have just taken an idea in my mind and placed it in your mind. Sounds like Magic/telepathy to me.
We may have different tables in our minds; the more Words I add, the more closely the table in my mind will resemble the one in yours. I can say that the table is about thigh-high, intended for children. It’s wood, a light blonde color, with a circular top and 4 legs. There are some scattered papers on it, and along a section of one edge are some Dora the Explorer stickers.
And there: not only have I transferred a thought from my mind to yours, but I have maintained that thought in your mind, and modified it.
Writing is potent stuff.
It is Magic, it is telepathy, it is ritual. And as any priest/witch/psychologist will tell you, intent affects results. The more specifically-focused the intent, the more specific the results. There’s a reason they put on the dress for Mass, and go through the whole rigmarole, rather than just sitting on a couch eating saltines and drinking some two-buck Chuck. Ultimately, it’s the same actions…but it’s the placement, the specificity of intent, that influences the results.
And so—especially in what I’m doing, abandoning the meta arc and zeroing in on each word, each shape, each possible moment—it’s not just the words that matter, it’s their use, their placement, their shape.
Tell me if you really think that these two examples, when read for the first time, will have a similar impact on the reader:
When I went there, I didn’t know what she was thinking, but I was hoping, praying, that it would go better than the last time.
When I went there
I didn’t know
What she was thinking
But I was hoping
That it would go better
than the last time
This isn’t about prose versus poetry; we’re talking about many of the elements that inform that discussion, but ultimately, questions of word choice and placement can be explored without having to settle into just one categorical mode or another. We’re talking about Writing, and Words, and when you spend the time to assess and implement placement, and formatting, with specific intent…that’s when actions become ritual, when a whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
When writing becomes Writing, and the Word become Flesh.
And at that point, I can do more than just put a table in your head: I can make it dance, and sing, and if I’m good enough, make you cry in sorrow and heartache when it leaves.
So fuck off Facebook, and anyone else who plays so casually and shallowly with something so potent.