I think people write for many reasons. None good, none bad. Just valid reasons to pick up a pen or a keyboard and dump whatever goes on in one’s head into words.
Despite the countless shifts society and culture have experienced, the written word seems to stick around and even thrive. By many standards, it feels ancient (and it is), clumsy, somewhat unwieldy for now when time is
precious short, and our attention span is the size of a swipe.
Many seem to thrive in more up-to-date forms of expression like audio and video; mediums that are easier to digest in our fast-paced, connected world; content that delivers more than words; ways of expressing our fuller selves, our whole individuality, our raw, unredacted emotions. It’s a win-win for both the author and the receiver – the multiple layers of interaction, the emotional richness, the nuances, the authenticity…
I do my fair share of binging documentaries, sci-fi series, drama series, movies, action-packed blockbusters, and, of course, eye-watering, heart-warming Japanese animations. Podcasts not so much. Radio in the car, video courses and recordings of conferences from time to time. Audiobooks at night when my eyes need a break after looking at screens all day. I seem to be a prime candidate for contemporary forms of expression.
I understand that now, more than ever, we look for more immersive ways to learn, to be moved, to be entertained, to fill-up that off time, to make the most out of a walk or commute. While I get it, I actually don’t.
I can’t remember what the documentary I saw a couple of weeks ago was about, what was the main idea in the third chapter of an audiobook I listened a month ago, what tricks a trainer shared in a video course a few days back, what words of wisdom someone shared in the fifth TED Talk I watched a couple of days ago. All I have are flashes of images/sounds mixed with my emotions and random thoughts that were going through my head – snapshots, or better yet, mindshots of fleeting moments that I am not really sure if I remember correctly.
About 80% of that time (and I am being generous to myself) is wasted – went by without leaving something meaningful to bring into consciousness and make use of. The remaining 20%: I had a good time, I relaxed, I unplugged, I enjoyed something with my loved ones – time well spent and very much needed. So, while I get it, I actually don’t.
What I seem to get is written stuff. To my surprise, I can remember whole scenes from fiction books I read close to 20 years ago – in all fairness, they were really awesome books but still, quite a while back. I can conjure up from somewhere in my head a pretty good summary of most books I have read in the past couple of years. At random times, parts of poems pop-up seemingly out of nowhere – I can’t really recall when I read them.
For me, the written word has an almost magical stickiness to it, one that I have come to appreciate and respect the more I ingest the new mediums of our times. I guess it boils down to making good use of my time and planting seeds for my future self.
Now that I painted a rough sketch about my relationship with reading, I guess it’s about time to get to the why behind my drive to write stuff. Don’t expect a clean cut, manifesto-like picture. I will do my best to be as honest and frank as I can muster right now.
When I speak of writing, I am talking about any text that has some structure to it, that revolves around a central message, that has an aim to it. So it is not necessarily about length, but I certainly don’t mean short chat messages or brief replies to emails.
Writing is liberating. At my core, I am an introvert, although I play a pretty good extrovert, or so I think. Through hard work, I’ve gotten better at expressing my expectations and emotions in-person, but I still can’t shake that feeling of clumsiness, that regret that I’ve held back because I couldn’t trust myself to say it all right then and there. When I write, I gain some control about the form my message is delivered in, about the context it swims in, and about the mental path I feel the reader should follow.
Writing is storytelling. I love stories. I need stories to find meaning in my day to day life. I constantly refine and branch off stories in my head. Stories are the glue that holds all that I am together. Some are delusional, straight out of Fairyland, or wishful thinking just for the sake of it; some are just drafts or mashups of previously forgotten stories; some are stories I share with others in my life, stories that are no longer just my own, stories with a life of their own (this is the best kind) – my kid is such a story, my family, my friends, my company, my town are all shared stories that I chose (most of the time) to be a part of. When I write, I
can’t help myself not try to conjure up a little story, no matter how small. Writing is no fun without it.
Writing is deliberate. I don’t suddenly find myself writing something meaningful in Slack or in a Github issue. I need to have a certain message that I feel it’s important to be delivered, some sort of inner mission. Other times, I have a problem that keeps revolving in my head, that seems to bounce around without control or direction. I force myself to pause and begin to write it all down – things suddenly start to cluster, structure emerges, and conflicting ideas either gain clarity and strength or end up in the trash bin of my conscious mind.
Writing is hard. I tend to write in a conversational style, the same way I (would like to) speak. Before I feel ready to write it all down, I need to have a firm grasp on the whole thing in my head. So the prequel to my writing are endless conversations with myself; arguments are being fought and lost, ideas get stripped down, buried, resurrected and/or expanded; new storylines come into view, and old ones get abandoned – all this is quite energy intensive. Fortunately, once I start writing, the words seem to flow, and things take shape rather quickly.
Writing is thinking. For me, writing is an extension of my thought processes. Often I find myself stuck in vicious cycles of conflicting ideas. This is when writing it all down comes to the rescue and helps me square things with myself. Through the process of expressing my thoughts, I gain a clearer picture of the problem at hand, while also testing the validity of various arguments. I (almost) manage to detach from my own ideas and see them for what they really are.
Writing is selfish. I tend to write first and foremost for myself, for my own satisfaction, pride, or problem-solving endeavors. Even when the overlap between the target audience and me is marginal, I get to decide on the presumed characteristics of my readers. I am not a professional writer, so writing needs to be fun and challenging – I dread the (rare) occasions when I need to write something that is purposely impersonal and misaligned with my values. I treat my readers with respect and interest, but I don’t make it my mission to satisfy their expectations – I try to live up to mine first.
Writing is craft. After the initial deluge of thoughts that constitutes the first draft, I do a few more passes where I focus on finding the right words, the right metaphors, and comparisons. I try to find, and hopefully remove, blockages in the storyline, in the fluidity of sentences and phrases. I have a deep respect for words, for their power to help, but also get in the way – I don’t take this tool lightly, and do my best to honor it. Sometimes things seem to pop into place with ease, other times it a veritable tug of war.
Writing is mysterious. I sometimes seem to tap into some vein of inspiration and end up with coherent, enjoyable stories. Other times, my writing is convoluted and strained. Sadly, there are (a few) occasions when I just suck at it, and I probably shouldn’t hit that publish button. The truth is I am seldom conscious in which of these categories I find myself in – all I can do is hope for the best and take it one step at a time. I’ll let my future self be the judge of it. I am confident he will have learned to go easy on me and appreciate me for what I am today.
There you have it. I write because it liberates my mind, because it feeds my love of stories, and, ultimately, helps me think. I enjoy crafting words despite the hard work and the mysterious paths they take (me) at times.