Your Best Writing May Already Be Done

We often think of writing as a thing that someone does alone, sitting at a typewriter or in front of a laptop or with a pencil and pad in their hand. Rarely do we think of it as someone sitting with a series of documents in front of them, from which they are culling bits and pieces, using the copy and paste function on their word processing program.

But increasingly, that’s all writing is. A series of commands, copying a piece from one place to another, re-arranging text so that it fits the particular point of view of the person who is doing the copying. Because, when you think about it, text is in abundance, it is everywhere, in your phone, on your computer, on websites. There is no problem with creating text, the text itself exists; the issue is arranging the text into something coherent, making it make sense.

This, I assume, was much harder years ago. The thoughts then did not exist, at least not on paper, and if they did they were buried in books that sat on library shelves, way up high or down deep, in a building that you had to travel to get to, then had to spend time inside looking for, and the whole process was all very constraining and, in the end, fatiguing. I get tired simply thinking about it.

I think about this today, as I am typing this, because yesterday I spent a solid half hour simply searching through my tweets, looking for what I had once written, publicly I might add, that spoke on a particular topic — in this case, the topic was “talent.” How had I used that word, in what contexts and to what extent; well, it seemed I had used it quite a bit, expounding on it not in any great length nor with the wit of any real poetry. I had merely stated simple facts about talent, things I believed about it.

What mattered was not that I said these things without poetic flare, or that the text itself was unusable, but the sentiment. I had thought these things once, made notes, public ones at that. The existence of these tweets, these notes, proved a thought that I had which still remained, only now I could not think them again, not because I didn’t want to but because I didn’t have to.

But, I had these notes and I could copy them from Twitter into a document, and in that document I could arrange them in such a way that, were I to be in need of a piece of text, a general thought about “talent,” — or anything, for that matter — I could reach back into the archive for it, knowing that it was there, that I had committed the idea to the universe as a great many authors had once committed theirs. Again, their are libraries filled with this stuff.

If you think about this in the context of the books or the articles which you are to write, consider that you may have already in some ways written it. Scattered among the thousands of thoughts you once had, the millions of sentences you’ve scrawled upon pages, there are the remnants of all that you hope to say. These things are already said and what you need only do is find them, rearrange them and rewrite them.

Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.