Writing as a practice of support

Alena Palchanka

December 8, 2023

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My name is Alena Palchanka. I write poetry, translate, and do projects related to books and writing. I explore the processuality of writing, linguistic structures, memory narratives and territorial thinking. In this text, I am talking about how writing and words give me the support I need to move forward.

“Yell corporeal prayer. This is writing”
-Lidiya Yuknavich

I’m beginning this text with silence, allowing the words to enter the sound field and become flesh. I begin to write slowly and thoughtfully, testing the words for the flexibility and fragility with which they crumble under excessive pressure or effort. Approaching them is like gently looking at someone you love and whose boundaries you’re probing for vulnerable points. Words open cracks and inflict wounds just as sharp objects do, so when I try to approach them, I become attentive and quiet, calm the trembling, and begin to write, moving unsteadily in the dark.

It’s always frightening and exciting to find myself alone with the emptiness of a piece of paper and to write a text on it, an image of the inner space of thought that is now accessible to an outside view. The courage required to do that supports me all the way through, and I rely on it more than on the ingenuity or uniqueness of my thought, which tends to slip into some literary convention or other linguistic tradition. Here I want to talk about writing not in terms of the literary canon, which embodies the final idea of the text, but to describe writing as a practice of support and creativity, available to anyone who tries it. And to share what I find and gain from writing myself.

Let the practice of writing not frighten or repel at first contact, but expand and nourish with security and care. Writing is, firstly, being alone with oneself and opening to the barely noticeable flickering of the thought that wants to be recognized and written down. The joy of seeing it appear in writing before the eyes, even if it doesn’t immediately appear in the form intended, fills, inspires, and gives a feeling of freedom.

Writing is also always an act of audacity and a challenge, an act of courage and honesty. Taking a pencil and a piece of paper and trying to write down something buzzing that comes from the very heart – something that occupies, attracts, touches, worries, interests, saddens you – is a step, and often a difficult one. The very ability to do it reveals a lot, but it also puts a lot in a position of uncertainty and instability. Do not let this frighten you, but give an opportunity to live this instability in a variable way in writing, to spell out and to accept it as a part of a valuable everyday experience.

Writing structure

In writing, as I see it, the following stages can be roughly distinguished: the initial entry into the writing, the writing itself, and the work of rewriting the material. All three stages can intertwine, unite, converge in different spaces and time loops, or they can follow each other linearly. The order listed is not hierarchical, so don’t treat it strictly and rely excessively on it. Sometimes the writing happens in one sentence, preceded by a long silence or a question that has been forming for weeks. Sometimes you never get to the stage of rewriting the material, and this is also an important insight.

The initial step into the writing is to overcome that very fear at the beginning. A blank sheet of paper, the fear of making a mistake, the fear of not being able to formulate a thought, or to formulate it somehow wrong – all that can be overcome by practice and trial, which you need to begin somehow. The key word ‘somehow’ is frightening, so you can come up with any task to cope with the buzz in the face of the vastness of the void. For example, write down 10 verbs, 10 adjectives, and 10 adverbs; describe the pose of that tree outside the window; spell out all the aromas that come to mind; write down the words in ascending order (from “no” to “agrostroypromkombinat”); write words one after the other by hiding the neighboring word in the previous one, or anything else!

The initial immersion in writing can be built up in a variety of ways, but the main thing at this longer stage (I would say, around 30 minutes) is to write down any thoughts, words, phrases, emotions, feelings, circles, or any other scribbles that look like letters. Freewriting is an ideal way to shake off the primary emotions and accumulated stress that one sometimes has by inertia, and it is also an amazing leap towards releasing any blocks.

Then, at some point, the writing itself begins. It may start on its own, coming naturally from freewriting, or it may require a pause and a stop after games and imagination shake-ups. It can continue to be anything: experimental, playful, weird, flexible, serious, quiet, or focused, and its subsequent form shouldn’t necessarily differ in any way from the previous stage. The main difference in this kind of writing is calmness and acceptance of being present: the threshold has already been left behind, a certain amount of paper has already been used, and now, it seems, you can move on. What happens here?

The bustle of the mind is calmed down, the conceived idea can finally be expressed, the text takes on verbal flesh, and both the creative process and the first draft occur. Moving into the unknown of the writing created on the move is a position of search, discovery, surprise, change, exploration, experiment, meditative enchantment, and wandering – sometimes for a long time. I see it as a key mode of writing that I will try to designate as processuality and explore the power I gain in the process of following the text. Let further theses be lighthouses, equally distant and equally salutary on the journey, intertwining and connecting with each other in the geometry of the terrain.

“I slowly enter writing, just as I have entered painting”,
— Clarice Lispector

About processuality

Following it is the same process of trust, similar to plunging into cold water and relying on your own breath and body in the interaction with the flow. You learn the same thing with writing. There is a point in time where you are and where you are writing. By staying there, it is possible to discover a thought that coincides with the movement of the hand, and all that is required is to follow this process to the depths. This doesn’t always happen for the first time, and it requires first mistakes and failures, but if you let go of fear and trust the moment that is happening, then the writing, like water, takes you in and keeps you afloat.

The presence in the writing and the return of attention to the movement itself, which can take place in any direction, form the mode of processuality. The openness of the movement to non-linear and multi-layered, unexpected and non-standard ways of expressing thoughts, and then the gradualness of the unfolding dynamics help to take a different look at the process of writing, which is not done for the sake of the final result, but based on curiosity and exploration of what can be unfold in the moment. The search carried out in this kind of writing is distinguished by its flexibility and spontaneous ability to destroy the usual ways of telling stories, to create a support out of the process and to build on it completely different modes of stories, optics, narratives, languages, and models of thought.

Why is this necessary? This is how, in my opinion, a meeting with oneself occurs in writing – through the discovery of language, through the groping for material and the wording, through the contradictions and roughness of language that break through the text. The process of writing allows you to meet yourself where you never expected to be, in those roles you never imagined, in those words you never supposed to find. Finding it all together introduces you to yourself, returns lost or missing puzzles of understanding, and changes your knowledge of the world. It also surprises you, makes you laugh, amuses you, delights you with the unpredictable coexisting difference that suddenly appears on paper.

“I am interested in how much freedom a person can have – this freedom leading them to something that only they can do”,
— Sheila Heti

Writing moves along some other intersecting paths that almost don’t coincide with the familiar, the understandable, and the known. Extended in time, not through an initially predetermined trajectory, but through paths being discovered over and over again in the process, writing invades the realm of ​​unexpected, unintentional, secret, dormant knowledge, waiting for you to never ever be able to approach it by following the same mental paths day after day. But this is a trap: the writing provides access to the densest and most hidden essence, to other people's voices that permeate our lives being concealed in the language. You just have to be patient and keep writing, and writing, and writing. And gradually, the most terrifying forest parts, and the darkest hole you have been walking around suddenly turns into a mesmerizingly beautiful structure to be explored and seen from within. I dare say that writing doesn’t always make everything clear and explainable, nor should it. But in conditions of incomprehension and ignorance, it allows you to protect yourself in the face of the horror that endlessly intrudes into your consciousness, which is not always feasible and possible to deal with one-on-one.

A thought expressed on paper or in a document is endowed with the quality of visibility. To gradually carry out this recording means lighting lanterns one after the other somewhere on a steep cliff so as not to fall off it. The visible has a liberating power, and it fills space with clarity and leads away from the yoke of obsessive, frightening, gut-wrenching, mostly silent and sticky states. You can hold on to this power and go further and deeper with it, slowly revealing in words what has eluded you, escaping the recognition, fettering and compressing the boundaries against action. Thus, you can lay a new path for yourself, open a window, or create a way out of the impasse.

In writing, there is always the risk of discovering something that inadvertently destroys you. No matter how carefully and patiently you move, sometimes something becomes clear and crumbles into a dead layer of dust in which it was wrapped. The dissolution of habitual connections, ideas, and outdated images can cause pain and anxiety, but by freeing yourself from them in writing, you can try to live them out and allow them to leave their mark so that you can say goodbye to them. The risk of these feelings is not a reason to avoid or stop writing; perhaps it is in the process itself and its continuity that one can find a space of support and safety to face them.

What happens after the writing?

The ‘after’ in writing is often an elusive snap of the variability with which one moves – freeing, letting go, opening up, but also losing. The process of change accompanies writing, in which there is a journey and a return, perhaps even several times. The initial state before writing can and very often does differ from the final state after writing, and this is an especially beautiful process – to change as you move. I think this is not the main task of writing, but it is carried out unintentionally, and using it can help track the paths already taken and the distance covered over the entire route.

The processuality of writing, which sets the vector towards the presence and attention to the ongoing moment, can result in any text. This text may be unusual to look at; it may be uncomfortable to read the scribbles, notes, and crooked lines that have slipped out during the writing, and it may be awkward to face the result. This is a funny coincidence, but here you can live the experience of meeting your own creativity through simple presence and care for your trials and errors, which also have more beauty than it seems at first glance.

Any mistakes may occur in writing, but do not let them take up all your attention, because their occurrence does not end the writing. Writing can be continued and then edited as many times as one wishes by taking it in every possible direction. This is the third and final stage – rewriting the material and working on structure, form, and errors.

How can this be done?

You shouldn’t rush into this stage right away; it’s better to give the text time to be and give yourself a chance to breathe out and live through what has happened. Wait for the emotions to subside and for the time necessary to separate from the text before you can return to it. And then, through thoughtful re-reading and commenting, you can use it as material for further search and creativity. Take responsibility for mistakes, find coincidences of leitmotifs, catch the intersection of thoughts and patterns of ideas, find an image of yourself in its form and don’t turn away, don’t run away, try to interact with it like a puzzle and a piece that you can leave and weave into the text, or you can remove, or set aside for some other canvases.

“I gather up all my fragments of writing and spend lots of time trying to understand what they all mean together”,
— Sheila Heti

The ability to engage with the text at this stage, to show determination in assembling a form, a structure, and finding that very way of sewing different pieces together is a separate, independent process. The writing there can and even must be cut, changed, compressed, or, on the contrary, stretched. If there’s not enough to rewrite from, then you should go back to the previous ‘writing out drafts’ stage and do it again. This long-term work teaches dedication and devotion to writing that has no proper structural order. In return, it brings back the freedom of trying and making mistakes, exploring and searching as many times as you personally need.

It doesn’t matter whether you do it for the first time or for the hundredth time, with a certain level of knowledge or no skills at all, with a confusing silence or with a formed sense of the word – all this is a sufficient reason to write. Every writing happens, even if only one word is written. Every writing is an encounter and an event, even if it’s not immediately possible to recognize the voice or the trace of the presence. Every writing is a risk and a source of liberating forces, but also a game, an experiment, and a violation of the rules.

The points of support that I find in writing and from which I continue the process are similar to anything existing, and most of the time they are not similar to what I imagine. They are anger and pain, the constant repetition of a leitmotif that cannot be deciphered, the voices of loved ones echoing off the kitchen walls, and the rustling of things that never had names. All this is discovered, revealed in writing, revised, and then accumulated over time into the ground on which I learn to stand, with occasional stability, each time a little differently.

The material was created within the media-educational project "Support in Arts" which is a series of interviews, publications, essays, educational courses and events from representatives of the Belarusian art community and art educators who work in various fields of art (illustration, design, modern dance, visual art, fashion, modern poetry and prose, photography, music, cinema) and interpret the modern context in their practices.

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