Habits Of Mind

100,000 miles of blood vessels, over 100,000 neurons, a billion synapses, one brain. Humans are capable of incredible feats and we owe most of that to our brains. Everyone's mind is different. We see things differently, we interpret things differently, we approach tasks differently and we fall into very different habits.

Humans are creatures of habit. Whether its while writing, or on the sports field, humans strive to find their comfortable place.

Right foot to the back inside corner of the box, left foot halfway up the box making an open angle between my feet, tap bat on outside corner, tap bat on inside corner, tap bat on the center of the plate, put bat on shoulder and wait for the pitcher to deliver. If you watch someone get into the batter's box on a baseball diamond you will notice that everyone has a different ritual. Pre-pitch rituals, or even pregame rituals differ drastically from player to player. The great Wade Boggs used to eat an entire rotisserie chicken before each game (which I would not recommend). But I guess whatever floats your boat.

Likewise, people have different habits and quirks when it comes to their writing. Some people love outlines, other people just like to write. Some people like to listen to music when they write, and others like silence. No two people have the same writing process.

I remember good ole' SEA. If you asked me what I learned in middle school, the first thing that comes to mind: subject, example, analysis. They pounded it into our minds every single day. "Make sure your following SEA class". I hated SEA. It sucked. It turned our writing turned into blobs of monotony. Being the rebel that I am (not really) I decided to not follow this structure in most of my writing. I can remember getting back papers that I thought were masterpieces and being disappointing with grade after grade because I didn't follow some stupid structure that the English Language Arts department was in love with. I didn't like being told how to write. I thought the whole point of writing was for the writer to engage the reader and be creative. I guess it wasn't in middle school. I spent all of middle school thinking that my writing was garbage all because of some method that didn't fit my style as a writer.

I didn't start to see myself as a decent (better than terrible) writer until I took AP language and composition my senior year of high school. This was the first time that the writing seemed to cater to my strengths. Instead of the analysis of literature that I was used to, we started to write about things that actually seemed to matter to me. Social issues, deep internal questions, and open ended prompts sparked my passion for writing that never existed before. This freedom of writing opened up an entire new world to me.

I'd say that every writer has there own style; their own quirks that differentiate them from everyone else. Similarly to how musical artists have distinct voices and playing styles, writers have their own distinct preferences when it comes to writing. Some may prefer one method over another (Coke over Pepsi!) or the other way around.

My best friend from high school, Dillon, is one of the best writers that I know. He's always been the best writer in our class and he somehow effortlessly seems to write masterpieces despite the time constraint or the prompt. While I'd say he's a much better writer than me, we seemed to get very similar grades on our writing. When we would sit down to write in class, I was always amazed how differently we approached each prompt. I'm going to walk you through each of our processes. IanĀ *reads prompt twice, picks up his pen and then writes. I'm definitely a show and go type of writer. I don't like to waste my time tippy-toeing around the prompt. Whatever comes to my mind I write. Dillon: *reads prompt twice, writes an extensive outline, sharpens pencil to perfection, sits and thinks for a few minutes, and then writes. Very different approaches as you can see, but both seem to work for us.

There is no right or wrong way to write. It's about preference. Some things work well for some and not for others and vice versa.

This year, I read the American Lyric Don't Let Me Be Lonely by Claudia Rankine. When I first read the book, it kind of put my mind in a bit of a spin cycle. I wasn't really sure if I liked it or hated it so I had to read it a second time. The second time through, I began to understand the writing better because I was able to pick up on Rankine's quirks which were not evident to me the first time through. Her writing almost seems fragmented in the sense that it jumps around from anecdotes quickly and contains (what I thought to be) random blank spaces all over the pages. The way she jumps around from story to story reminds me of myself in a way because my mind goes all over the place when I try to write. When she jumps around, it adds flavor to her writing that contributes to her message; however, when I jump around, it's usually because I get distracted and can't focus on one idea for more than 30 seconds.

I think we all have some "common bones" as writers. If you read enough works by different authors, its inevitable that you're going to find similarities and tendencies that you share. Now of course you're going to find differences as well, but no two writers are 100% different. I can tell you that the most effective way for me to learn as a writer is to read books by different authors. Every time I see something I like, I pick it up and put it into my writing arsenal. When I read Sebald's work, the first thing that I noticed was his extensive description and establishment of setting. In chapter one of Rings of Saturn, he notes "Like a glacier when it reaches the sea, it had broken off at the edges and established new deposits all around on the floor, which in turn were advancing imperceptibly towards the centre of the room." When I first read this, I was intrigued by the description, but I didn't really know what it was describing. Why is Sebald randomly talking about a glacier? I re-read the paragraph a few times until I realized he was describing the way a desk looked with papers scattered all over it. I loved the fact that I had to read it a few times before I understood what he was talking about. It made me feel like I had to work as a reader. Now in my writing, I'm not going to spend a paragraph describing every setting or situation, but I now feel that I can go a little out of my comfort zone when it comes to descriptions.

We are just a product of our environment. We model ourselves after people who we look up to. Every time I see my father's work ethic or my mother's compassion, I strive to mimic them. Every time I watch Kris Bryant swing, or watch Xander Boegarts field a ground ball, I try to mimic them. It's how we learn.

After an entire year of reading different authors, I think my habits of mind have changed a little bit. Instead of seeing it as change, I like to think of it as development. As I get older and develop as a person, my habits of mind will develop alongside me.

Created By
Ian Fair
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