Writing Process of Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks, the writer that I’m profiling, has a somewhat unusual writing process. He begins by noting that his process is not always the same; in other words he doesn’t have a systematic approach to writing. Two main things seem to inspire Sacks to writer: his patients and writing letters. Sacks writes down, in great detail, everything that he sees when he goes to visit past patients. He notes that these visits, though he has practiced neurology for a around forty years, continue to intrigue him. The descriptions he writes of patients, he goes one, often serve as the basis for an article some years later, or may find themselves in one of his books. The other thing that gets Sacks writing, writing letters, is often related to the readers of his books. This is true because the overwhelming majority of letters that Sacks writes are responses to emails he has gotten from his readers, of which he says he gets thousands per year. Instead of responding to an email with an email, Sacks writes a letter. It is this “act” of letter-writing that gets Sacks in the mood to write something more substantial like an article or part of a book.
A major contributor to Sacks’ writing, that he briefly mentions in this article but notes several times in his book Hallucinations, is his pen and paper that he keeps on himself at all times. Whenever a thought pops into his head, Sacks says that he hates to be without the paraphernalia to write it down. It is my suspicion that the thoughts on these notepads form an important, incongruous outline for many of Sacks’ writings. I have a similar process in which I type up thoughts as they come to me–this process has echoes of those Taoist rituals in which a sudden insight is meant to be obtained while the mind is primarily focused on another task.



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