Saturday, May 17, 2008

Mental Activity

Yesterday's post about imagination was centered on the crucial role that imagination can play. It was about the activity of mind: it is not just a mind that is receiving information and passing it on. Now, of course, we don't "just" receive information and pass it on, because everything is filtered through our own perceptions, thus it can be observed that different people remember the same event in different ways.

I think there is always an active element in this filtering, but it can be more or less active. I was talking with a writer who assured me that the way she worked was just to use what other people said. I was completely unable to convince her that she wasn't just passively receiving ideas, but was also making active choices among them. If it is your conviction that your mind has no active facility, then certainly you won't be able to put it to use.

But more importantly, as writers, we are trying to exercise the activity of our minds--this is how our own voice gets to manifest in what we write. The more that we can exercise our active mind, the better our opportunity to work on developing our own voice.

In this desire to move towards an active consciousness, towards a mind that generates ideas, it can help to write. Writing forces our minds to be active, while reading and researching allow a much greater passivity (though activity while reading is certainly possible, if that is already your habit).

Ideally we are mentally active. Ideally our work is motivated by some curiosity. Ideally we think it's kind of cool to try and figure out how things work and to try to come up with different stories that might explain a situation.

These ideals, however, do not always prevail. And in that case, the need to write become greater because writing obliges mental activity.

I didn't work in any quotes, but part of the influence for this posting is Gail Sher's book One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers, in particular her chapter titled "Reading Supports Writing -- But Watch Out!" Overall, Sher's book, though possessing a certain elegance, is not my favorite book on writing. It's got some good points, but... It is highly comparable to Cameron's Right to Write, but with a less friendly attitude. I tend to be put off by people who complain about how others are destroying the language. Language is a tool to be used to communicate with others; we each do the best we can with it. It is not some fragile heirloom that can only be used by those in the know.

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