Two Ways to Gather the Ramblings by Ashby Kinch
by Ashby Kinch
I have realized in the last few years that I need to change my modes and technologies for “recording” my ideas from time to time to make sure I have not become a slave to the cut-and-paste world of electronic text. Since the labor stakes for adding a new sentence, paragraph, or even section of an essay are so much lower with computers, I have a tendency to accumulate writing that does not necessarily move a piece forward. I have two major strategies for accomplishing this break.
One is to take a long walk or bike ride or ski trip with a handheld digital recorder. I will narrate my essay in my own voice from beginning to end, laying out from memory what it is I think I have accomplished, what I think is central, and how I think the major evidence works together. After a day or two, I’ll download the audio and listen to it again, transcribing bits that seem especially well-worded, salient, or interesting. I have often found my thesis buried in these audio ramblings, as well as much material that has funneled into introductions. Something about the synthesis required to speak a sequential set of ideas aloud makes my brain click.
The other strategy involves writing by hand, and I usually do this at two points in my writing process. When I feel as though I have gathered sufficient primary and secondary material to begin sifting out my major ideas and looking for a thesis, I’ll abandon my computer for a week or two and write primarily on yellow pads, filling them up with outlines, draft theses, notes, etc. Also, when I am nearing the end of a writing project and thinking seriously about the final form a piece of writing will take, I abandon the computer for a few days and scribble by hand. After letting that material sit, I often return to it and find two or three places where I have unintentionally written the same, or nearly the same, sentence. That usually becomes my thesis, sure evidence that I have found my central thought.
There’s no doubt that digital text has revolutionized our modes of writing, but I’m not convinced our brains have fully caught up with print yet, much less electronic media. There are modes of thinking, analysis, contemplation, and meditation that can be conveyed through electronic text, but cannot necessarily be produced in and through electronic text. Our hands and our voices can usefully slow our brains down into patterns that can settle and deepen our thinking in ways that the speed and efficiency of digital modes of text can sometimes obscure.
Ashby Kinch is an Associate Professor of English at UM.