One of the more fascinating aspects of reading nonfiction work is the way that it reveals the thinking of the writer. No writing was engaged in without some sort of purpose, although the question of the motive and purpose of writing cannot always be answered straightforwardly if all one has is the example of what is written. If as a writer I tend to think myself somewhat transparent in terms of what inspires or motivates me to write, I must admit that I am ultimately (and fortunately) less obvious to others than I am to myself, and that sometimes what is written may be far easier to understand if one knows something about its context. So, in that light, I would like to engage in one of my periodic efforts of writing about my writing in the hope that it may make it easier for other people to examine for themselves why it is that they do what they do, whether they happen to be writers or not.
One of the more obvious inspirations for writing is because of reading. For example, the thought that writing is thinking on paper came from a book I happened to read this afternoon while I was relaxing and eating lunch. The author discussed her own writing process and how it was that her experiences led her to write, and she found that her writing was illustrative of the context in which she wrote. As a writer I have frequently found that reading was a major inspiration of writing. This is true in several ways. In general, I tend to be a person who has a high degree of compulsion to reply and respond to what is around me. When I sit in church or watch a webcast of a message, I have thoughts about what the reader said or what they left out. Sometimes these thoughts inspire me to write a post, or to write a lengthy series of essays, or to write my own messages to tell the congregations I attend the rest of the story. Similarly I also review all of the books I read and movies I watch and at least a few of the restaurants I eat at and all of the albums and EPs I listen to for the same reasons. Beyond critical and review materials, though, I find that quotes and concepts and genres/forms can be inspirational in encouraging me to find new ways of expressing myself and new constraints to work against. And all of that is exciting to me, obviously.
Similarly, I find that personal experiences do a lot in shaping and motivating what I write. There is a whole family of posts that spring out of my tendency to look for what I think will be a simple and straightforward good or service that ends up being a far more lengthy matter than I expected it to be. Rather than simply being irritated by it (although it is admittedly irritating), I find such quests to be an encouragement to write about questions of marketing and logistics. And such explorations are worthwhile in that they are a reminder that the things I want are often odd items that have vulnerable supply chains. For example, in recently picking up a couple of Semisonic albums to review I was struck by how close to being out of stock the stores were, reminding me that stores do not tend to keep large supplies of albums supported by a niche fanbase. This is equally true of items like kao soy, one of my favorite Thai dishes but one that is seldom served in American Thai restaurants (and seems to be a Northern Thai specialty), or gout medicine like indomethecin. Likewise, the fact that I like sprouts for my salads and the fact that such sprouts are hard to keep free of bacteria suggests some of the trickier aspects of finding good salad materials in light of health concerns. Thus my own personal experiences and frustrations resonate with larger questions about health and safety as well as the statistics and nature of contemporary logistical systems and their limitations in supporting products with limited appeal.
And whether one is looking at reading because one has been inspired by the writing of others or one’s experiences or observations of others, or because of conversations, the natural result of that is that the writing should in some way be shaped by what inspires it. Frequently, for example, encountering new forms of poetry or approaches to poetry, whether I like them or not, has inspired me to write to test my own creative powers against novel forms. Similarly, wrestling with the frustrations or irritations of life or the reasons why I strongly dislike some of the books I am reading also can be immensely productive in allowing me to shape my thinking and to ponder the relationship of supply chains and my own obscure tastes, as well as the way that worldview and personal commitments shape our lives in profound ways, including our alienation and irritation with the world around us because it simply does not cater to our own preferences and wishes. What we bring to the world often strongly influences what we get out of the world, and the experiences we have in dealing with those who are so different from us in so many such profound ways. And wrestling with this makes for great writing and hopefully also a better life lived, in that we have thought and reflected upon what is going on around us and to us rather than simply emotionally reacting to it.
And all of that leaves a trace on writing. What is written is a record of the battle done between the writer and various ideas or thoughts that are in tension with each other. When I write about a frustrating experience not finding something in a store, for example, the tension is between the reality of limited or wonky supply chains and my own expectation that stores will contain what I want. Shoppers who are used to dealing with poor logistics and stores that frequently do not contain a wide variety of items that cater to the whims and wishes of consumer preference do not have the same expectations, and so what is frustrating for me as an affluent Westerner is simply the story of life for those who are less well-off. Likewise, those who do not pay attention to what is not said in a given book or a conversation or a message are left only to reply to what is said, and what is not said is typically far more interesting than what is, because it reveals gaps in understanding, obscure areas that are worth covering because of their obscurity, and weak points that a speaker or writer is trying to avoid and thus should be pounced on immediately. But to do this requires that we see things differently than we usually do, and that we enter into such matters with a high degree of contextual knowledge that may be as high or higher than the writers and speakers and people whose lives and communication we aim to critique. And let us not be unaware that even as we do these things that other people lie in wait to do the same to us. For just as the violation of our expectations prompts us to respond to others, so to the way we violate the expectations of others leads others to respond to us, and frequently gives us more food to respond to them as the way that they think and reason is different from our own.