Spencer Linford

On Writing III

As I have gotten older, it has become more difficult to tell stories. When I was a kid, stories flowed from my mind with ease. Now I struggle to begin emails. When my world was small, everything had significance. Now that my world is bigger, nothing on its own seems significant enough to share. How has this paradox come about and what is its meaning?

We, people connected to the internet, are constantly bombarded by information. Our brains hastily work to make sense of the many news stories, television shows, books, music, social media posts, and life experiences which daily overload our mental bandwidth. If we are lucky, sleep delivers us from overstimulation, but more frequently, we lie awake in bed, thinking about the information we have consumed.

We struggle to make sense of what the information means. What is the significance of it, and how does it all relate? As we grope for answers to these questions, we consume more and more information, slowly becoming a hazy constellation of disparate knowledge, a mirage of understanding. The truth is, we lack sufficient time to draw meaningful connections between all of the bits of information that we absorb daily.

The presence of too much information becomes a hinderance, rather than an asset, to the writer whose job it is to draw meaningful connections between details. It is the paradox of choice in full effect. In a world with more information than anyone can consume, how does the writer distinguish between necessary and unnecessary information? Important and meaningless details? The answer is simple: important details come from lived experience.

In order to be successful, an author must, to a certain extent, ignore the outside world. The author must focus on the details of their life, recognize their significance, and skillfully relate them to a larger audience.

For example, to the average passerby, a fallen tree may be insignificant, but perhaps to a writer this fallen tree recalls a memory of a similar tree in the yard of their childhood home which no longer exists. This connection between a memory, object, and a memory is the defining characteristic of an important detail. From such a fecund detail, the meaning of life and death, preservation and development, physical and mental growth can be explored. Within this single detail, an entire world exists.

Instead of focusing on everything writers must focus on something. Instead of focusing on abstract belief systems or philosophies, the writer must ask themselves what mysteries can be unearthed from simple concrete experience. What can be learned from a flower, or a birthday, or a sunrise? Simple subjects are excellent topics for writing because they force writers to focus on concrete details of context, time, and development. A focus on simple subjects also forces the writer to remain curious to the world around him which is the secret to telling a beautiful story.

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