A writer interviewed recently by Terry Gross quoted Don DeLillo as calling writing “concentrated thinking.” An excellent description of what a person does when focusing to write clearly, come to the point smartly, patiently untangle and remove what stands in the way of those things.
Bad writing, like bad thinking, can be like a hungry anaconda. Not to disparage large constrictors, we all need to eat, but a coiled monster that crushes you in its hungry embrace is not what most readers seek when they make their reading selections. Making the reader’s task as easy as possible is one of the writer’s primary jobs, like making yourself easily understood is important in conversation.
Which would you rather have in your lap on a Sunday afternoon, a relaxed cat or dog, or a ravenous constrictor weighing a few hundred pounds?
I’m thinking of this because, mistakenly believing I’d done some kind of good deed by answering a convoluted email from the toxic adult son of a recently deceased old friend, I had delivered to me an enormous pile of steaming shit, in a huge coil, by way of reply. The inevitable punishment my misguided attempt at a good deed — done for the sake of others, not the vampire I was actually writing to– deserved, no doubt. The steaming mountain of shit, to my great alarm, uncoiled itself into a large constrictor and, as I pulled back in horror, got a firm hold on first one arm, then my torso.
I struggled against this determined monster for literally hours. It was only through concentrated thinking, and metaphors like “coughing up a toxic hair ball”, and the fevered writing of many words, that I was able to finally loosen its terrible bonds. The bad writing, and even worse thinking, put me back into aggravations long forgotten and filled me with a surprising amount of anger and violence.
Bad enough writing, the product of bad enough thinking about painful emotions, feels like it can kill you, if you let it enter your mind. Like bad thinking, bad writing complicates things that are already difficult enough without adding complications.
Concentrated thinking, and editing, and paring the thoughts to their most elemental form, yielded this image, finally, which I sent as the last of too many words to the brother of this toxic person:
Your brother is a lost soul, flailing desperately. He’s quicksand, only he talks you to death as he kills.
Like his bad writing.