Writing as Design

A few years ago I wrote some posts about why I write. The gist was that I write mainly as a tool for thinking.

Lately the question of motivation and writing has come up again. I’m often not the best communicator — being either too blunt or too self-conscious, saying nothing at all or awkwardly trying to rephrase on the fly.

A few of my notebooks from years ago.

A friend recently pointed out, “it’s funny, because you’re a writer.” I pointed out in return that “a writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people” and “there is no great writing, only great editing.” I write because I think and speak in rough drafts, or prototypes that need to be refined.

With more professional and business writing behind me, the notion of “writing as a tool for thinking” has come around in a new perspective. There’s a clearer contrast between writing I want to do and writing I need to do. And I’m seeing how important it is for writing to be difficult.

I like to write not despite the difficulty but because of it. I like risks and challenges — like someone who rides a bike not to get where they need to go but to get where they seemingly can’t.

One recent personal project involves exploring metaphorical connections between philosophy and fitness. I’m trying to avoid or overcome association with New Age cliches, which means I have to spend a lot of effort developing my own vocabulary — and I love that, in a perverse kind of way.

It’s really more of a design challenge (shaping ideas) than an exercise in expression.

And maybe that’s really it: writing is design for me. I didn’t grow up with a love of words. I grew up in a pile of Lego, drawing pictures, studying maps and taking toys apart, exploring creek beds, building forts, scavenging through drive sheds and hammering random boards together.

At some point I realized language is the ultimate design medium: it doesn’t run out, like Lego or pieces of wood: it’s inexhaustible, universally versatile, and resilient.

Originally posted at brianfrank.ca on January 25, 2014.

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