On Writing

We were at the dinner table when a lovely lady of many wise years asked me what I did. We had discussed several topics in the days leading to this dinner but had hardly found it pertinent to discuss our daily occupation. Perhaps it was the dearth of topics that forced her to toss this one between the tub of chapatis and bowl of lentils. I wanted to summarise my occupation with a “I think”. No matter how genuine that would be (and my visiting card designs contain a similar pair of words to describe what I do) it would at best appear like a shabby copy of Govinda’s response to Kamala’s query in Siddhartha or at worst a cheeky response. She meant a good deal to me and I couldn’t afford to slight her.
I confessed to being a writer, sometimes of software code and sometimes of softer wares which come from the smoky recesses of one’s thoughts and imagination.
“Aah! A writer. An artist.”
One must add a British accent to that exclamation.
“Yes, indeed. I would love to make it all of what I do, but neither do circumstances allow me nor do my inner predelictions permit me confinement to only one mode of activity.”
“You indulge in other art forms too?”
“Dabble with them and in other popularly non-art activities too.”
We soon began discussing art and science and engineering. The table seated a truly international array of guests and added an age spectrum which was delightful too. The youngest was a girl recently out of high school though she didn’t add a word beyond an occasional assent and the oldest was someone who was around when ships were means to arrive in India. The meanderings of the conversation came to a halt when I, unpremeditated, said the following:
“Writing is so unlike the other arts. Nearly every other art caters to a sense with a medium which is most intuitively coupled with that sense. Writing is different.”
There was a pause and the reason couldn’t be the wonderful taste of any of the elements in the dinner spread.
“Why would you think so?”
And I proceeded to explain. I cannot say that this thought is entirely mine. I recall reading Stephen King’s “On Writing” where he hints at something similar. He doesn’t compare it with other arts but that aspect stood out clearly. He doesn’t even view it in terms of media and sensory effects. Before I proceed to that, allow me to carry your attention to an earlier post of mine. For the sake of some My Worldreaders, I shall reproduce some of the contents here:

The last word Damien spoke was “Dad”, which was also his first one, five years ago; I was holding him then and now.

He sucked her tongue into his mouth, savouring the lust and definite completion of the the 3 million dollar contract, while she licked at his naivete’.

I was about to turn around & complain about not hearing a single bird in these woods, when he gunned his Hummer making it roar for a couple of seconds before shutting it suddenly; I got what I wanted and more.

I watched her eyes moisten to the news, softening the blue of her eyes to a painful shade of grey & as the tear tried to slip down the side of her face, she tilted her head slightly & brought it back within the wrinkled folds of her eyelid; her tears were hers.

He had to write to her, so he wrote the words “Dearest Erika”, stopped and smiled at the sparkling ink on the words before licking the portions that made her name.

Every hair on my body stood and watched his wet finger trail down my neck to unchartered, but eager, grounds.

As we were positioned in the back of the truck with our sides pasted together, knees dovetailing into each other’s crotches, unable to turn our heads around, I counted thirteen children in front of me and assumed the same number on each of the five benches I saw when I was hurled in, hence sixty-five; this was my first unofficial assignment in math which helped me work towards my doctoral thesis.

When Uncle Joe hugged me, rather crushed me against his barrel sized chest, it was cheap whiskey instead of the usual Armani which told me that he hadn’t recovered from his wife’s death; this was my cue to make him mine.

It is not an arrogant claim but each of these sentences designed and created to evoke a particular sense are potent enough to transport the reader to an imagined world of their own making. As King puts it, writing is pure telepathy. The writer has an idea in his mind and employs words to convey that scene. When a writer writes “a wilting red rose on white lace tablecloth” one is able to imagine the red rose and “see” the white lace tablecloth. If every reader is immediately asked to paint whatever he has read, the paintings might differ in details but carry forth the broad intent of the writer. The sheer possibility of such different paintings of a scene is the power of writing. The 4th line above (in the quoted section) is an example of rendering an emotional scene and also in showing you the character of the “she”. Read the 6th line and close your eyes to the scene.

Writing employs visual cues (words on paper) to create an effect on different senses at different times. One commenter to the “Ode to the bamboo flute” sonnet mentioned the sound images that she could view. Writing about food and describing food can get the mouth to water. Writing about colours and textures can create a visual and palpitating delight. I recall what a friend had to say about this post. He was playful in his comments but did remark on feeling his mouth parch!

None of the other art forms seem to do this.

Dance: Visual means, Visual senses
Music: Audio, Auditory senses
Painting: Visual, Visual senses
Sculpting: Visual and touch, visual and touch senses
Theatre: Visual and audio, visual and audio

One might say that writing employs visual means and creates visual images in the mind and hence, they are the same. Well, they aren’t the same because when I say “blue marble” neither is the word “blue” blue or shaped like blue nor is the word “marble” as hard or glassy as a round marble (did you imagine this marble or the slabs of marble!?). The music of the flute sounds like a flute and not like a violin. Fierce angry gestures in a dance performance indicate just that. What is employed and what is attained are very different in writing. Undoubtedly, each art form has its own beauty but this is something peculiar to writing. It is not something that makes it better or worse than other art forms but is surely something that lends it power of an unparalleled mettle.

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2 thoughts on “On Writing

  1. All writing may or may not affect the senses, but it always impinges and stimulates the various characteristics of the mind, and if it indeed reaches the senses, that too is done only through the affectation of the mind and therefrom reaching the senses.

    But all other arts affect the senses directly as a visual impact, as a sound.

    Writing is always essentially of the intellect for the intellect and by the intellect’s logic, rationality, reason or imagination.

    Of course, the senses may too be stimulated as in images and sounds in our imagination affecting us as effectively as a real image or sound seen or heard as a painting or as a musical not, or the write up about a recipe make our mouth water, even though the dish is not under my nose…

    Other arts are more sensory, though of course intelligence and imagination are mandatory for the creativity to be comprehensive and great.

    Curious – I cannot even call writing an art or a science or anything at all. Writing is just writing. Like thinking, it is a fundamental fact of life. An extension of thinking

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