- Tridip Patir
On writing: deconstruction of "trains" of thought and the metaphysic of the "strings"
Updated: Sep 28, 2021
It is of the opinion that everyone does have their own writing style and I do not deny it. No one is wrong in writing the way they are naturally disposed to write. What I aim to convey in this essay, (which arose as an answer to a webinar held by Dr Anil Behal, "Fielding Graduate University") is what I, by my own rational mind, believe is the truest way one ought to write. For what reasons, one might ask? Well, for better conservation of time, perhaps. Or because that way is naturally what will bring forth the best version of one's writing. It should not be such that following some other form of writing than what is championed here, is somehow wrong! But rather, it is that this particular form might just yield the best results.
One's writing style should be as such that they write down whatever their mind blurts out first, in a controlled setting. One should never go back and "redact" entire portions of text. Herein, one must understand the difference between "redaction" and "editing". Both differ. "Redaction" is recognising that one's proto train of thought was not the most apt in its early writing process and therefore, begets "redaction". "Editing" is just going through sweeping for grammatical errors or typing errors.
A "train of thought" brings forth the idea of an uncontrollable thought process. Perhaps one should attain a self so matured and controlled that one has no unnecessary spikes of thoughts to detract from the controlled train-of-thought. I might actually liken it to oneself driving a car. The car is driven by itself, technically, but we control it. In the same way, once such a state of mind is reached, one needn't worry about unnecessary spikes or "trains" of thought. But instead, one can go ahead and write down, at the first sitting, whatever their mind blurts out and be fine with it, for it arose from a self so controlled and so "mature" that one has full confidence to not let it undergo further redaction but only editing. In that, this string of thought indulged in, in such a controlled setting, is free of any random "spikes".
One should never interfere with their "controlled" train of thought or their "self-driven vehicle of thought" at the moment of their writing. For that moment is the truest we are to our cognition. Later redaction is just artificial and influenced by outside things rather than by the self controlled-mind we possess.
It is important to realise that merely changing words at a previous line of text is nothing but editing. The idea that most writers espouse is of innumerable "drafts". The idea of drafts being that your first written version of your article, essay, whatever may be, is not the best-written version and thereby, needs more editing to reach its final/best stage. The conception of drafts is not missing in my theory of writing. In fact, drafts exist, in a controlled manner. I liken it to how the sunlight perforates through cracks in the door. Drafts, to me, is editing taken to a more whole level. There is no doubt most individuals would change up paragraphs of text and change the train of thought altogether. While these dispositions of humans exist, I claim it is the act of the person who hasn't yet reached the more "matured" stage whereby he can string a paragraph together at one go. Remember that this does not mean writing at an impulse. There is a difference between "writing" and "musing". Musing involves browsing through strings of thought (to put down on paper) that would best suit the subject matter at hand. And musings are not a redaction, either. Redactions only can occur once someone has put their thoughts onto paper- when the controlled trains of thoughts have manifested, from the metaphysical realm to the physical, material world. Musing in one's mind, thereby choosing what to stamp onto pages and what to leave behind in this realm of thought, is not at all, redaction. For better understanding, I will change "train of thought" to "string of thoughts", for as said above, the image of ‘"trains" of thought’ brings forth an uncontrollable spike of thoughts: a metaphorical train that we are riding without any control of it ourselves. We are only mere passengers to this train heading who knows where. Therefore, it is up to us to take control of this metaphorical 'train' of thought and be the operations master.
A string of thought is not interrupted by handpicking what to keep on pages and what to leave to the vacuums of space in the mental realm. A string of thought is not interrupted if certain words are interchanged for more concise ones. It is also not interrupted if the sentence is phrased in some other way. It is merely changing "A is B" to "B is A". The essence, as a whole, remains the same. When it is interrupted, however, it results in what one calls "writer's block", although I don't use it in its traditional sense. When one undergoes this block, he has run out of what to say. Perhaps this is because the topic one has to write about is not to his natural liking or perhaps he has limited knowledge on this subject matter. While writing this essay, I have followed a string of thought, from the first sentence to this sentence and to the conclusion, for I had this whole idea spark up a fire in me. This is what is known in layman's terms as "inspiration". I agree that this thing does exist. But in no part of my writing process have I thought to myself, "maybe I shouldn't write this". I have, no doubt, gone back and changed plenty of words to better convey what I want but I haven't changed a sentence or sentences so far that they no longer bear resemblance to the string of thought that occurred in the first place. This is where the matured mind would not need to write just for the sake of writing, but he has carefully planned out his writing, whether consciously or unconsciously even before putting it on paper. He knows that the first "string of thought" he will have is the final "string of thought". For he can think of no other "string of thought" than the best one congruent to the subject matter at hand!
"My first train of thought is the best train of thought"
This is in part, very similar to how artists convey their art. A Samurai swordsman was said to be one with his sword. So much that they could not even have "thought" of their moves, but in fact, it was "reflex" to them. The sword had become a part of their 'self'. Perhaps the strings of thought I claim here needs to be the sword to the collected matured self of the individual. Perhaps only then one can confidently put down on paper what they truly desire to be put out and not mere ramblings of a lost individual. But this is not to say that reflex actions are the same as the amalgamation of "strings of thought" and the "collected self". These are different. To do something involuntarily in response to external stimuli would be what "reflex" actions are. But "strings of thought" stamped onto paper are not reflex actions despite them being so effortless. They appear reflexive but have years of knowledge and practice behind the utilisation. Whereas reflex involuntary actions happen because our body tells us so. "Strings of thought" are careful operations by the matured collected mind.
Violinists, Guitarists, Pianists, Actors all would concur with me that sometimes the first playthrough is the best that they could ever do. This part of me, being a musician, is best regarded as being able to answer this. When I play the guitar, I realise that the first playthrough, without thinking of what I am playing, is the best playthrough, as compared to the later ones I might try. Why is this? I cannot answer perfectly but going back to the outside influences I mentioned somewhere above, I would say that there might be a natural disposition of my own mind to do the best possible playing that I can, but outside influences and learned things come to interfere in the latter ones. Say, for example, I play through something of my own conception, what is known as improvising, the first playing would yield a good result. Now my 2nd or 3rd playthroughs would not bring forth the exact same results. Maybe this is because of the fear of not getting the part right (as I did so in the first) or a self-inhibition of not being as good enough to play like the first time, come into being. Such outside influences affect a musician. Just as how the same affects an actor, who would admit the first time he goes through a scene or even something like improvisation, yields the most interesting results. Notice I said, most interesting and not "most correct". I routinely repeat that there are other ways to achieve results. But to me, the best and most interesting results are achieved through such means. Now is "improvisation" the same as these "strings of thoughts"? The answer lies in the idea that "all improvisations are essentially, strings of thoughts, but not all strings of thoughts are improvisations". Why is an individual so naturally disposed to certain things and none whatsoever, to some? This is, in my opinion, because of the years of accumulation of knowledge towards certain subjects one has practised or shown inclination towards.
Dr Behal's idea was that this was an interesting take on writing style but that in a scholarly writing, one needs to redact portions of text should new shreds of evidence or musings relay different ideas than what was originally stamped on paper. Sure, then, they can definitely redact in such a context but that has little to do with my conception. First, my idea is in relation to the contexts given, at the time, the string of thoughts be as such. Second, one needs to achieve a "collected self" of matured ideas before writing down anything at all, to save himself the effort of redacting entire portions of text should the next idea come knocking at the door. Instead, wait for all of these ideas to come knocking and only let those in, that have worth. In doing so, I reject the idea of Dr. Behal that good writers write down small pieces every day. I believe a good writer can lay down whatever he thinks, at one instance, without questioning himself or his thoughts or essentially, going back and redacting something that was already put to paper.
The benefits of such a unique agreement of the controlled matured self and the musings or strings of thought lead us to write, what would normally be considered, "long" answers, in a routinely short amount of time. For when one has attained the "controlled self", as I talked of, one would realise that words flow out of their string of thought onto paper, as water flows out of a fountain, without inhibition, without hesitation. How does one achieve this "controlled self"? Through practice, determination and collection or accumulation of knowledge, as mentioned prior. The more knowledgeable and creative a person can hope to be, the better he is disposed to achieve this "controlled self" and the better he is disposed to amalgamate this with the "strings of thought". Not everyone can attain this "controlled self" and not many have. I can't deny that I, myself have not mastered this, either. And that is alright. No one is required to follow this, only that this essay might help one understand this idea better. For I, myself, will not change any "strings of thought" in this essay. I might add new ones in "later drafts". I might rephrase words, might correct typos but a complete redaction of any large portions of text is unnecessary, for me. This resulted in me, completing this essay in approximately 45 mins. For my "strings of thought" could align with my "controlled self", at least in this instance, deterring any spikes of rambling thought that would detract me from my strings. But again, I myself do not claim to have mastered this art to the highest degree. For I am also naturally disposed to the same errors as anyone would make. I let my string of thought get distracted by outside influences and cannot keep it intact. If I go back and change an entire portion of text and in turn, "redact" my original string of thought present in that portion of text, I have admitted, on my own accounts, that I have yet to master the "controlled self". I would have admitted that the erstwhile strings of thought I stamped onto paper were wrong. A collected matured mind would have no need to "redact" his earlier stamping. For that stamping would be the final stamping. This is the extent of his confidence!
Dr. Behal's ideas of how good writers write piece by piece everyday works, to a certain degree, I must admit. Perhaps the idea of going back and critically evaluating one's previously written writing would yield good results, too. There is no doubt that analysis and going through our own writings would provide us with things we might have missed on our initial undertaking. What I aimed to answer or give an answer to, in this essay, is the idea of the most perfect way to write an essay. Perhaps the "most perfect" would not be apt. Maybe "most efficient" would succinctly answer this. Despite what results will be yielded following such tactics, there is little doubt within my own mind that if one is able to master this "controlled self" which I propagate within this essay, one would become the best writer that he possibly is disposed to be.
In the end, I would relay to you, reader, again, that adding something new is not a "redaction", neither is changing words or phrasing and neither is correcting wrongfully written sentences. For it is my belief that one can make the mistake of writing an entirely different text on paper than what was originally intended. This does not disrupt the concept of "strings of thought", for again, humans are naturally disposed to errors and the "intention" is in line with the string of thought present prior to the writing. Despite the connections, there is a thin line of difference between what the strings of thoughts are and the physical manifestation of such thoughts onto paper. I claim that "what was intended" is different from "what was written". And so long as the original intention was to write down the perfect string of thought from the realm of the mind, it, then, doesn't matter what was written down. The string of thought remains untethered. The mistake in writing something entirely different than the intended is just that- an innocent mistake.
A "string of thought" is a very abstract concept that functions in an unseeable metaphysical realm that directs your writing as an invisible hand guiding each stroke of your pen.
"Yes I agree, Sir (that each has a different writing style). However, my writing style is such that I blurt out whatever is on my mind. I never go through a 'revision' or 'redacting' a train of thought. I believe the train of thought I have, at the moment of writing, is the final train of thought (with necessary editing). I believe it is the time we are at the truest to our cognition".
- My answer to Dr. Behal's conception of "editing" vs "revision".