Writer’s Diary #40: Makeshift Writing

Writing is often seen as a pursuit of perfection—the perfect sentence, paragraph, or article. But perfection is the result, not the method. Perfectionism tells us little about the process of writing. Instead, the secret is to embrace imperfection, and approach writing as a makeshift endeavour. It is something cobbled together. Words and ideas are improvised. Perfection, if it is to come, emerges out of an iterative imperfect process. This is the essence of what I think of as makeshift writing. A mode that is temporary, contingent, ever good enough. The point is not to achieve premature perfection, but to work into the words and let the ideas develop, on the page.

Too often, as writers, planning becomes paralyzing. What is the argument? What is the outline? What is the conceptual insight? Research becomes endless. So much so, that it impedes writing. To write this way, is to fall into a trap. The trap is the idea that a piece of writing comes out perfect, and that it must follow a strict, logical series of steps. The goal might be such a piece of writing. But, the getting there is far messier.

The makeshift writing I have in mind is a practical, embodied labor. It happens not in the realm of the perfect analytical structure and theoretical contribution. But in the countless moments of revisions on the page. To write through makeshift is to embrace messiness. A call for makeshift writing is a call to write, to get the words down on the page, and then to improve on them. To iterate. Makeshift is a riposte against the idea that words emerge perfect.

As an anthropologist, maybe one way to approach writing as craftwork is to approach it as an ethnographer might. To think about writing is to embrace an autoethnographic observation of ones practice. It is to consider writing as a process. As a labor practice. To think of writing as labor is to think of it less as intellectual labor, but as a practical, embodied labor of the countless steps and interventions made as a writer. Could focusing on this labor, on the actual practice of writing and fixing verbs and revising tens and making small changes and looking for repeated words and all the other little tricks of a writer’s toolbox help demystify the process?

This process of writing is, for me, ever makeshift. The trick is to begin then to make changes. To be being willing to cobble something imperfect and then improvise and iterate to improve it. To bring together ideas in unexpected ways, and then to work and rework them until they make sense. Makeshift is about approaching the words not as if they were the pursuit of perfection, but to do so as a practical kind of craft work that can be honed through imperfect, iterative hard work. Makeshift writing is a way to get the words on the page, to keep working with them, to keep moving, even in the face of imperfection. It’s about embracing the process, the labor, the craft of writing itself, and it is about how, through this embrace, that something good enough begins to emerge. Something that is meaningful and true, and just maybe, near perfect.