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On the Writerly Existence

April 24, 2011

Writerly = a word that my spell checker keeps reprimanding me about with its glaring red wavy underlines, a word I love to toss around, and a word that in the context of this blog is loaded enough to warrant its own post.

The Google definition (which I’m sure is a comprehensively researched and condensed version of all definitions of the Internet) is 1. Of or characteristic of a professional author 2. Consciously literary. The World English Dictionary says that as an adjective, the word means “of or characteristic of a writer; literary”.

I’m not sure that these definitions do justice to the way I tend to use the word. So I’ll try and explain where it comes from for me.

It started during my professor’s lecture in a class on Pakistani Literature in English. He talked about the readerly versus the writerly mode of thinking. I don’t remember it in great detail, but I do remember that the readerly mode of thinking means experiencing and absorbing something as opposed to creating it. The writerly mode of thinking, on the other hand, emphasizes creation. My understanding is that one only can either engage in one or the other at a time.

The way I use the word ‘writerly’ in this blog is an extension of that. I use the word to denote an artistic existence, an existence driven by the urge to create.  It  means inwardly squirming in social situations, tugging at one’s starched collars, sneaking away to the restroom to jot down an idea here, a line there.

Those confined to this existence are just that–confined. They are ultimately helpless, often alienating those around them. Some might not even know what it is they are meant to do. They are driven by something else, and, if they’re lucky, they know what they are meant to do and do it because they have no choice but to do so.

So.

By the intersection of faith and the writerly existence I mean: What does it mean to be a Muslim and to have such an existence? I’m not sure. But I really, really hope it does not mean disavowing one completely for the sake of the other.

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