The Third Discipline: Posture

Je t’écoute … Vas-y!” (Henry Miller)

This series is developing more slowly than I had anticipated. Truth be told, breaking down what is ultimately only a little more than 30 minutes of activity into seven discrete activities, and then devoting a whole post to each of them, also feels a little stranger to me than I had originally imagined. I’m going to have to revisit these posts in a few months and bring them all together in a more in a coherent gesture. They might work better as a book chapter.

I’m going to write about the third discipline today, which is the act of sitting down in front of the machine at the appointed time to begin writing the paragraph you decided on when practicing your first and second discipline the day before. It’s important to understand the situation: before going to bed you knew what you were going to say and when you were going to say it. Your plan is to write a single paragraph starting at some exact moment, like 8:00 AM. You know what the key sentence of that paragraph is and it expresses something you are knowledgeable about.

In a literal sense, you show up in front of a blank page, but, since your mind is prepared, there is no ambiguity about your task. When the writing moment begins, just type the key sentence. Do it slowly and deliberately, allowing yourself to modify it if you think this will make it clearer to your reader.

Now, consider why your reader needs a whole paragraph about this subject. Why can’t you just leave it at the one sentence? Why do you need at least five more? This must be because the reader faces some particular difficulty when the sentence is left there on its on. It may be hard to believe, hard to understand, or hard to agree with. (Sometimes, it may be boring — the fourth difficulty — but that’s an interesting problem too.) The third discipline is all about posing the problem effectively. Write the key sentence in such a way that it presents the difficulty that your knowledge will allow you to solve. Direct the sentence at your reader in a particular way from the center of your own strength.

All of this occupies only about two minutes of the writing moment and you are working on a single sentence, which may not even be twelve words longs. You are choosing those words with particular care. You are adopting a rhetorical posture, comporting yourself in a deliberate way, in order to signal to the reader what posture they should adopt too. Once you see yourself and your reader squared off (like two boxers or two dancers, as you choose) move on the fourth discipline.

But that’s for another post.

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