Writing with (pompous) archetypes

One of my greatest struggles in writing is my battle with pomposity. When I sit down to write it’s usually just to convey some interesting idea in plain speech. But when I actually start writing something strange happens and what comes out is irritatingly grand, solemn, and self-important.

What’s odd is that I don’t journal or write emails that way. It only happens when I’m writing something that I expect a lot of others to read and possibly for a long time.

Ironically, this mindset causes me to write pompous stuff that I am too disgusted to show anyone. So instead of many people reading it for years to come no people read it at all.

But I think this theory of archetypes may explain whats going on. The theory, briefly, is that we have different archetypes in our unconscious that we use at different times to relate to the world. And they can speak in different ways.

An extreme but common enough example is the way in which someone caught up in a religious fervor might suddenly speak loftily and extravagantly as if they were Moses in a play. But, unless they are in a play they’ve probably switched to a prophet archetype.

Similarly, it may be that between getting the inspiration to write and actually sitting down to write, I often change archetypes.

The inspiration to write usually comes when I’ve just had an insight or solved some mystery, and I want to write it down so as to capture, scrutinize, and verify it, and also share it with others who might benefit. It is the archetype of the inventor, scientist, or explorer.

But when I actually get to writing a change comes over me and I slip into the archetype of the sage, bestowing timeless wisdom. And his is the speech of bombast.

Usually that type of speech disgusts us. But oddly, there are some who we let get away with it and perhaps even expect it of. The real Moses for example. I bet that when he came down from the mountain using his prophet archetype people liked him that way.

Thoreau, is another example. I don’t think of him as pompous, I read him and think, “What a sage!” But what if he lived next door? Or was my brother-in-law? I’d probably read Walden and murmur the whole time, “That highfalutin so and so… who does he think he is making these grand proclamations?”

Then again maybe the sage and prophet and other lofty archetypes are on to something with their grandiose speech. Because would Walden have survived if Thoreau had spoken humbly and more down to earth? Would the ten commandments have lasted if Moses had presented them casually? Or is it partly because these works were wrapped in high-rhetoric that they assumed a mantle of authority and thereby withstood the test of time?

So maybe that’s why I unconsciously switch to the sage archetype when I write. Because deep down I want my writings to survive the ages and to be revered long after I’m gone. As a mortal I have to admit the possibility appeals to me. In which case I shouldn’t beat myself up too badly for instinctively switching to the archetype that is best suited for that job.

But for now I would like to keep the sage at bay (and my apologies when I fail to), because though he might help me gain some reputation that could outlive me, he might also ruin me while I am alive.

What I mean is that more than posthumous fame I need the freedom to experiment and speak my mind and make mistakes. More than admirers in some distant future I need friends and colleagues in the here and now, or the less I will grow while I’m alive.

But to get the best of both worlds, I’m also writing a computer program that will automatically publish my cache of pompous stuff to the internet a hundred years after I’m gone. Then maybe people who never really knew me will say, “Wow! what a sage!”