Putting Words on Paper in a Particular Order

Charlie Castor, Fun with Depression, Sheep

In comic books, an origin story reveals how the superhero(ine) acquired their superpowers. For us as bloggers, writing is one of our superpowers…reflect on your origin story and tell us how and why you became a writer. (Writing Challenge)

The first confession I must make before responding to this challenge is that I’m not a writer. Not really. I put words on paper in a particular order, sometimes, but that’s not even my day job. In fact, I don’t have a day job as I’m unemployed. However, putting-words-on-paper-in-a-particular-order has always been something I’ve felt compelled to do.

Sometimes I love it. Sometimes I hate it. And sometimes seeing my own thoughts on paper bores me to tears. Would you like to know about my experiences with words-on-paper through the years? You wouldn’t? Well, why the hell are you still reading this post?

It all began when I was about four or five years old. I remember my teacher giving us these huge pencils that were designed for teaching children to write. I remember they were red and black, really thick and really long. But then again, it may have been that I was very small and the pencils were normal sized. However, I believe they were specially designed for the illiterate four/five year old. We were told to hold it in the hand that was most comfortable, and to hold it like so.

And so began weeks of drawing the letter over and over again, and drawing curly symbols and other shapes. It was a tremendous lark. I think it was around this time that a boy who was sitting at my table got his credentials out and put them briefly on the table, in an attempt to show us girls what boys looked like under their trousers. That period of my life really was a learning experience.

The next memorable words-on-paper situation was two years later, when our class was entered into a nationwide writing competition, sponsored by the British Post Office, I think. The question we were asked was What is your dream job? Being 6 and a bit odd, I misinterpreted the question and ended up writing about how I would like to become a Duck Keeper.

What is a Duck Keeper? Well, it’s someone who keeps ducks of course. When I read the question, I thought that the word dream meant made-up or imaginary, as (being an attentive 6-year-old) I had worked out that what you dreamed about was not really happening. So, I asked myself what kind of profession could exist but currently does not. And so, the profession of Duck-Keeper was born.

I think the adults in my life thought I was slightly mad. I suppose I’m not all that surprised. My piece must have looked a bit out of place among the entries of my peers. Astronaut, Policewoman, Chartered Accountant…Duck Keeper? Needless to say, I did not win that writing competition.

For many years I flirted with writing in French. I had an eccentric French teacher who used to make us write in green pen. Everyone must have un stylo vert, she used to say. Anyone who didn’t have un stylo vert got a punishment exercise.

I had a tremendous English teacher when I was about 16. He would use the word tremendous a lot, and the word always reminds me of him. Whenever he was about to introduce a controversial idea, he would begin by saying try this one on for size…and we would brace ourselves for the exciting concept we would be trying on.

He used to make all student successes and failures public. He would walk up and down the class clutching some person’s piece of work which he would berate or praise depending on its quality, and all of us would watch him in fear and fascination. He despised the word actually, believing that it actually had no function in the English language. I was a huge fan of this teacher, as he encouraged us to find our own individual writing style. The writing style that I was cultivating was about to get a massive overhaul, however.

In no subject has my writing received more of a thorough dressing-down than in Philosophy, the subject which I ended up studying for five years at University.

I had wanted to study English, but had been overcome by an attack of desire-to-please-parents syndrome, and started my University career as a Business Studies student. However, when I got to University and discovered what doing a Business Studies degree involved, I was so upset that I nearly pitched myself off the top of the Accountancy building.

Philosophy was the only subject that had extra spaces. Whilst Philosophy is a very interesting subject, and has taught me many worthwhile and valuable things, it’s something of a boot-camp for thinking and writing. You can no longer write an essay in which you casually discuss some topic. You have to argue things. The concepts of Rigour and Clarity become ideals towards which you are always striving. Each. Word. That. You. Use. Becomes. Suddenly. Vital. For. Constructing. A. Coherent. Sound. Valid. Argument.

One philosopher that I came across  was Ludwig Wittgenstein. He wrote philosophy that took the form of puzzling and near-impenetrable little snippets such as this one from his first work (with the catchy title) Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

3.5. A propositional sign, applied and thought out, is a thought.

Wittgenstein enthusiasts reading this will be shouting at the screen: but that’s hopelessly out of context you butchering swine. I agree and I must apologise. I am merely trying to convey how lost and bewildered I felt, sometimes, whilst studying Philosophy.

At the beginning of my course on Wittgenstein, I would read each of Wittgenstein’s puzzling sentences over and over again. Finally I would think that I understood what he was saying. When I got to class, however, I realised that I had understood so little of it that I may as well have been reading a completely different book by some other author called Twittgenstein.  I did slowly start to think I was grasping what he was trying to say. But by then, the course had finished.

Sometimes I would have conversations with my tutors that would go something like this:

Me: So, is that what Wittgenstein meant when he talked of “thoughts”?

Tutor: Well, is it?

Me: Well, could you tell me?

Tutor: Can you tell me? 

Me: Is this a contentious issue?

Tutor: In what sense are you using the word contentious?

I’m exaggerating a bit, but this is not a million miles away from how conversations with tutors can feel to the lowly undergraduate Philosophy student.

After studying Philosophy for five years, I wasn’t sure if there was anything left of that writing style that I casually threw about as an aspiring Duck Keeper. I’m still not sure.

Sometimes I put words on paper in the form of a diary with a black cover. Sometimes it’s in the form of a blog post. Sometimes it’s a list of things that I need to do. Sometimes it’s an email. Sometimes it’s in the form of a short story that I never finish.

Sometimes I’m so tired of my own thoughts that I can’t be bothered to write legibly, or to write in proper sentences. Sometimes I make up words. Sometimes I wish I could use writing as a job that could make me happy. Sometimes I think that everything I ever write has been written before and written better. Other times I think my writing is quite amusing and enjoy cracking myself up. One thing I know is that putting-words-on-paper is something that I’ve always felt compelled to do and what it means to me is always changing.







26 thoughts on “Putting Words on Paper in a Particular Order”

  1. I found this really interesting. I’m also a compulsive logophile. Although I never majored in philosophy, & unfortunately Only have thirteen credits of it, I always enjoy anything from that discipline

  2. For me it was Psychology rather than Philosophy. The tutor was fond of saying “there’s a big but” which to a room of 16 year olds was hilarious, but made note-taking that little bit more interesting.

    And I’d forgotten about the big pencils. And the booklets with the letters written in dashes.

  3. As one friend told me, “You just have to put your shit out there and wait to see who’s interested in your shit.” Excellent advice, Oprah! The process is like a breeder of babies. You can’t love them all the same regardless of society’s rules. You just can’t. But you keep pumping them out until you notice you have favorites. This is how writing works…

  4. Thank you. I think you have just explained philosophy to me! Wonder if I can get a refund on a couple of text books I bought!! Brilliant humour here but also so many nuggets of pure information. Enjoying your posts.

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