What to write about?

Taking a deeper look at this question leads me in interesting directions.

After writing yesterday's entry, I was left with a feeling of incompleteness. I hadn't reached a point of internal calm, resolution, peace, or anything like that. So I started to think, was that the right thing to write about? And so on to the question, what is the right thing to write about on any particular day? How am I, or any journal writer, to discern the topic on which to write?

I'll try spelling out a few possible approaches to that decision.

  1. I could just go with whatever grabs me first. Two problems with that: first, that nothing might be calling me to write about it, and second, something that is calling out in my own mind might not work out in terms of time, effort, readability, interest.
  2. I could go back to my early self-advice, on How to write meaningfully? and try to think about what will be meaningful to other people, or myself in a few years time. That isn't likely give a topic by itself – if you start writing only what you knew to be of meaningful to others, it could degenerate into a news commentary – but could be useful as a filter. If I can't think of how to make it meaningful, then don't write it.
  3. Another filter could be the size of topic, like yesterday. I actually have a large amount of stuff in my head about collaboration and the commons, so choosing that topic needs to be done with caution – is there a reasonably coherent corner of the topic that I can deal with alone? It can still have pointers to other aspects of the topic, but I don't want to leave myself, or any possible readers, in mid-air.
  4. How emotional is the topic? If it lacks emotion altogether, then it's unlikely to be that significant. I'm not trying to write any kind of flat, factual scientific paper here. But if it's too emotional, will I be able to be coherent? Actually, my experience so far does not discourage me from writing about emotional issues. Sometimes I have felt that through writing, I do achieve a kind of resolution. But obviously care is needed here.
  5. Or, I could first make some time to reflect on the day, with its thoughts, feelings, actions, communications, and just wait in silence, like at a Quaker Meeting, until I am clear about a leading to write. Very good idea in theory … though in practice, like Quaker business, best kept for times which are genuinely unhurried, where I feel no time pressure at all.
  6. Here's another possibility, though. What has been in my conversation today? I've done that already sometimes, working on things that have come up with Ria or possibly Helen. If a topic held interest between me and someone else already, that already passes that filter.

So, what do today's conversations bring up? There's not been much face-to-face, though I suspect that threads from today might come back another day, but I have had two interesting video conversations. One was with some Art of Hosting colleagues, which brought me right back to the topics of learning communities and knowledge commons. But I don't think it brought them to the same point, so that doesn't pass the test. Then another conversation with another man who has been on Collective Presencing calls, during which we discovered some significant points of contact and common ground. That brought up all kinds of things, many shared, around gender stereotypes and expression of emotion; about conflict aversion and conflict resolution; in passing, about NVC; and more particularly, how to cope with other people being triggered by one's own expression of emotion, and complexities of communication around that.

To be able to choose a topic well, even from shared conversation, I need to be confident that I won't just be ranting about it. Ranting has its place – indeed we mentioned this in our conversation – but it is so much an ephemeral thing. It needs to be done and worked through and let go of. So not good material at all for a journal, unless perhaps just to note that one did have a rant about something, and what resulted; but that isn't a rant, that is a self-aware reflection on a rant, and much more interesting. I haven't had a rant today, though perhaps I could have used one …

Maybe it is one of the functions of a journal, too, that one can come back and look again. As new criteria come up for what is helpful or interesting to write about, each criterion can be applied to past entries as a reflective process, tool, or practice even. We can practice, and get better both at writing, and on reflecting about writing. We can reflect on other people's blogs, journals, letters, or whatever they call them, and see if the criteria match up with the feel of the piece, whether it bears re-reading, whether it is something we could suggest that others might like to read.

As part of the stimulus for starting this most-daily journal was from Peter Limberg, I'll mention him again. His most-daily entries have seemed to me interestingly variable, from the prosaically self-interested to the very inspiring. But when he was wondering, a while back, about whether he was exposing himself too much, I wrote back once suggesting that the function of his journal could perhaps be undertaken by a small group, rather than just by him individually.

I'm coming back to that thought now, hard though it might be to put into practice. What I think I would like, and maybe I could do here (I'm really not sure), is to talk first about what has come up in the day, and then write about what seems like an engaging topic, that arises from the conversation about the day. What is significant is so much easier to get a feel of through conversation than within internal monologue.

But, again, maybe not? Maybe it needs a group of people who all write? Now that would be interesting. And it's not very far on from having conversations online and ‘harvesting’ from them, as Art of Hosting people call it. Who has the time and energy and inclination to push that limit?

Here I am again at a point I cannot answer by myself. So I shall stop here.


Topics: Journal writing


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