Philosophy of Writing: An Introduction, by Austin Wiggins

by Austin Wiggins

The intention of this series is to deconstruct and analyze aspects of the craft, and in doing so to discover, with a proven rationale, a modern philosophy of writing. Why should we need a philosophy of writing at all? It is apparent to anyone involved in the field of publishing, in any respect, that the craft is morphing at a rapid rate. Print had almost been beat out, made a strong resurgence, and now it stands along-side digital platforms. We now have the ability to type directly into the web and immediately release that work to the public, in the past there were typewriters and before that even, pen and paper that got transcribed onto a printing press. These are clearly all acts of writing, but the actions are different enough to suggest a philosophical dive into what it actually means to write.

I start many of my conversations on meaning starting with etymology. The verb “to write”, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, comes from the Old English writan “to score, to outline, to draw” but this Old English word derives from a proto-Germanic word of the same name which meant “to tear, or scratch”. Here’s a point from the Online Etymology Dictionary explaining how write in most Indo-European languages meant “to scratch, etc.”.

Words for “write” in most Indo-European languages originally mean “carve, scratch, cut” (such as Latin scribere, Greek grapheinglyphein, Sanskrit rikh-); a few originally meant “paint” (Gothic meljan, Old Church Slavonic pisati, and most of the modern Slavic cognates). To write (something) off (1680s) originally was from accounting; figurative sense is recorded from 1889. Write-in “unlisted candidate” is recorded from 1932.

The point of this is to help the reader understand that, although we use the verb “to write” in describing our craft, when it comes to the word’s roots, not many of us —myself included— can say they actually write. Not many of use are carving our words into stone, paper, etc., these days.

When it comes to getting a definition, you’ll quickly realize it is difficult to find something that explains the work we do on an everyday basis. In using the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the first handful of definitions involve writing something down on a surface with an instrument, like pen and paper. It is only until you get to the second definition that we get an answer, “To set down in writing.” It goes on to give examples, such as, “to be the author of,” or “to express in literary form.” All of these leave much to be desired for explaining what writing is, rather than what the physical act of writing is.

Writing is first, the act of ordering one’s thoughts and transforming it into a readable format (words, letters, numbers), and it is also the process of communicating directly with the reader. This definition of writing is in two parts but they form a cohesive unit of understanding about writing. Looking at the first part of the definition, we’re forced to understand writing as a deliberate act of arranging your literary, scientific, or philosophic thoughts and then investing the mental effort to transmute the non-physical  into physical readable words. This is the first act of writing but there’s no point in writing something unless someone reads it —even if it’s just yourself, as in a diary. The second definition deals with the physical words that the writer had transformed from non-physical ideas. The goal of a writer is to communicate these ideas in the best way possible so that the reader can go from the readable format to the idea realm with relative ease.

These definitions of writing, both the transformation of thoughts into a readable format and the communicating directly with your reader, are exactly the processes writers from all periods of time, from stone tablets to tablets, have done within their work. It is therefore safe to use this as a functional definition within the broader philosophy of writing.

I want this philosophy to evolve from my readers and as such, I’d like to ask you to make sure the like the post and comment about what you think about my definition of writing. If you disagree, please feel free to do so. Where do you think this definition can apply to first? We’re on the forefront of creating a new philosophy of understanding the writing process and I would love your help.

This post previously appeared on Writings By Ender.

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