Writing It Up; Writing It Down

This is a facile distinction. But I intend it playfully.

In my reading around in various documents and in listening to colleagues, I have heard frequently: “Then I wrote it up.”

I think there may be a good deal of difference between the concept of writing implied in “writing it up” and that other concept of writing called “writing it down.”

The writing it up conception of writing seems to be shorthand for something like: “Well, now I have done my research, be it empirical or book research, made my calculations, defined my methodology limitations, reached my conclusions, and now I am going to write it up.” I am not saying writing it up is the easy part; the rules governing writing in the sciences, in areas especially like physics, are incredibly complicated. One must know and follow the appropriate forms for writing it up; still these forms are given. One doesn’t, in writing it up, make up the rules for doing that.

The writing it down conception of writing would seem to be something else entirely…almost. I think it shorthand for the saying: “How do I know what I think till I see what I say.” When one is writing something down one does not necessarily know before hand one’s conclusions or even the general point that one might wise to make. When one is writing it down, one is attempting by the word (social in its very nature) to externalize some internal confusion, perplexity or even irritation and though that gain some insight or hold upon that very confusion, perplexity or irritation.

Henry James or Hegel–they wrote it down. They did not have thoughts or perceptions and then write them up. In fact, in the case of writing it down the distinction between thoughts (as something inside the head) and words (as necessarily outside the head because social) is tenuous indeed. When one writes it down one is trying to say what one thinks, and what one thinks is no more or less than what one has written down.

I guess I am old school (if there ever was an old school); the world is not heading my way. I believe fairly resolutely in the idea of writing as writing it down. But then I am not a scientist or empiricist. I have never been research oriented, though I recognize the value of it. In my particular educational experience, what proved of most value to my understanding of the world and of myself in relation to that came from writing it down. This was never easy, always a struggle. And unlike writing it up, there is no end really to writing it down.

I can’t say now and probably never will be able to say, “There! There! I have written it down.”