Efficiency be Damned

A life lesson from writing personal essays

Ria Tagulinao

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Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

Back when I was a dancer, the part I liked the least was learning new choreography. Of course, learning anything new always comes with some level of discomfort, but I think it’s telling that I always wished I could just skip it. (Obviously — and to my dismay — that’s not possible. Because I can’t dance a routine if I don’t learn it.)

I think about the specific things that bothered me about the process: having to deal with my slow pick-up (this is the rate at which a dancer can memorize a new choreography), moving in uncertain, imprecise ways, being unfamiliar with the musicality — and seeing all of this in the mirror.

Zooming out, my attitude makes so much sense to me now. I’ve lived most of my life glorifying speed, systems, optimization — things that make me feel that I can surely navigate a situation. I just always loved being an efficient person. Cracking how to get from point A to point B. Economizing. Minimizing the possibility of doing something again and again or starting from scratch.

And I always thought I could rely on the value of efficiency.

Then, I got into writing.

From what I’ve learned so far as a writer, there are generally two approaches to writing. The first route, as succinctly put by author Amy Shearn, is where you “outline it, know what you’re going to say, [then] get there efficiently.” This is how I started writing. I would dump the key points of the piece on the page, then proceed to obsess over how to make them flow. Once I could see how it would all come together, all I had to do was write it out.

And doesn’t it make sense to assume that this is the way to write? I mean, it’s a grade school English lesson: Define your thesis statement! And common sense would ask: How can you write if you don’t know what you want to say?

Oh, but apparently, it is possible. This is the second route. And it is where you write about a thing and then find out your point.

From my humble writing experience, let me flesh it out a bit: It usually starts with a strange compulsion to write about a thing. It could be a thing you haven’t been able to get off your mind. Or an experience that ineffably affected you…

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Ria Tagulinao

Fun-sized Filipina Writer | To stay up-to-date with my work, here's my Sunday newsletter: http://riatagulinao.substack.com