You wouldn’t expect that taking early morning gym classes would also feed the mind, but my new gym pal Nathalie introduced me to a great French magazine called Sciences Humaines, packed full of fascinating articles . One of many eye-catching headers was: “Why is it so difficult to write?” I decided to blatantly plagiarise the main ideas here for Sunchalkers who are struggling, as we all do, to get those words on paper.
According to Jules Bernard: “Writing is a way of speaking without being interrupted”, an initially attractive proposition, perhaps. However, with no –one interrupting, no verbal exchanges, no opportunity to self-correct or retract as you go along, writing requires you to “fling yourself into the void”. Will it be correct and interesting? Does it truly express what you want to say? Will it be understood by the reader in the way you intended it?
Writing requires a great deal of concentration. Thoughts come in instantaneous packages of impressions and sensory perceptions. But we write much more slowly than we speak or think. Specialists have shown that we make many more mistakes at in the middle or ends or words when we write than at the beginning. This is because our brain is already thinking of the next word in the sequence. So the process is much more intellectually taxing than oral expression. Put simply: writing is knackering.
The next problem is that writing is a ‘monomedial ‘ while verbal interaction is multimedia. When we talk, we convey all kinds of information via intonation, gestures, facial expressions, and also the shared situation. Writing has no fixed context, and has to rely purely on its own communicative resource: the written word on the page. Think what you have to go through to write a letter of apology to the library for an overdue: book “ Dear Sir or Madam I regret the late return of this book which is the unfortunate consequence of … “ Whereas if you were at the counter, you’d just shove the offending article forward, look sheepish and say “It’s a bit late, I know …”
The writer’s anguish when confronted by the blank page is also perfectly understandable in terms of human science. Committing something to paper engraves it indelibly as part of your personal history. Writing means committing yourself irreversibly. What’s more, you don’t even know who might read it. That’s why some forms of writing, such as a diary entry for example, are far less intimidating because you’re not launching it out there to an anonymous critical mass. You don’t, as the French put it, have to be ‘engagé to write a shopping list.
So next time you’re agonising in front of the ‘page blanche’, be encouraged. In terms of human science, talking is easy (and that includes comments on Facebook). Writing is hard. It’s official – I read it in a French magazine. Therefore, those who do it are the brave ones. Bon courage!
Jo Hepplewhite, La Reunion, Indian Ocean