The Architecture of Writing

What can writing learn from techniques of cinematography, or the artful meal preparation of a skilled chef? Could a musician composing music out of notes and rhythms be working through similar processes to a writer composing an essay or story out of words and paragraphs? As we delve deeper into what I call the architecture of writing, let yourself drift away from what you know about writing and open your eyes to new perspectives, new approaches, and new tools for thinking about, practicing, and growing your own craft of writing.

I like to think of writing as a sort of alchemy, a transmutation of ideas into words; to write well is to be skilled at translating your thoughts onto paper. Every discipline is like this: writers translate thoughts onto the page, painters translate onto a canvas, and architects onto the built environment. Although each has their own tools, methods and materials with which to express or sculpt their vision. The core process is similar across every discipline, at heart we are all simply communicating in different forms and through different mediums.

There is so much to be learned at the blurry boundaries between disciplines. If we are all simply communicating with different tools, these tools can be treated as analogies when brought into different contexts. Take painting for example: what is the writing equivalent to quick brushstrokes on a canvas? or waiting for wet paint to dry? or how can you write with colour?

These questions are like constraints, but not typical constraints. Oulipo, a group of French writers in 1960 used a number of constraints in their work, ranging from replacing nouns with the seventh noun after it in the dictionary to not using the letter “e”. These constraints are methods, processes for how you go about writing or manipulating words that can spur creativity. However, asking a simple question like “how do you write with colour?” goes beyond to be a constraint for creating new constraints, a path to discover new ways of thinking about writing—I will elaborate more on this in a moment.

On face value, using the analogy of colour as a constraint for writing leads me to experiment with different sound and word associations: desire and wrath may have a feeling of redness, luxury of purple, and void of black. To experiment further with this idea I ran a short workshop where I first asked participants to write an introduction of themselves, then each chose a different colour to brainstorm words that feel yellow, green, blue or purple. Then I mixed both exercises, asking them to rewrite their introductions in the colour that they chose. As an example, here was my original introduction:

Hello my name is Azlen, I am a programmer and designer interested in the future of interaction, education and writing. In this course I am interested in exploring together what writing can learn from other disciplines!

And then rewritten in the colour “red”:

Beware Azlen, squasher of bugs and manipulator of metaphors. The fire in my chest pulls me to forge new forms of interaction and ponder how we learn and write. At the heart of this course burns the question: what can writing learn from other disciplines?

This is just a simple example, you and I might have very different approaches and styles to the constraint of writing in color. Reading through each color-introduction from the workshop, each participant is worthy of example. This one for the colour “black” was fantastically playful and poetic:

Marking hyperlinks in ink, I link things I’m thinking, sinking, shrouding sharp darkness with artistic marks. Writing at midnight, birthing from a dearth of earth the husks of dusk, reading fleeting blanks and pages deep, turning rage asleep, learning burns, time unwinds and blinds, I find a nebulous web of densest edges, unhook books and erase ageless spaces as mages weep.

I mentioned this question “how do you write with colour?” goes beyond a constraint on process—it is an entire creative framework. Once you figure out how to write colour into your words and paragraphs you can begin to consider the wider discipline of colour theory. What about lightness or saturation? Or how can writing in these different colours convey emotions? Or perhaps, can you design a colour scheme for an essay?

By bringing in analogies from other disciplines like this, you can apply your existing knowledge and skills to writing. It gives you a framework to experiment and ask new questions.

Maybe the Future Of Text—of writing—is to unlock the possibilities which already exist and explore what can be learned from other disciplines. Each discovering our own unique styles and techniques. Let us create new forms, new ideas, new techniques, new tools for constructing palaces out of words. Let us experiment, let us be free, play and experiment with the infinite landscape of writing.