Recently I’ve been finding myself wanting to write more, and then consequently wondering why? What is it about writing that’s captivating or helpful or even sometimes life changing?
It’s an interesting question to ask, and one perhaps best explored through writing itself. Which is to say that hopefully through the process of writing this post, I will be able to both better understand and convey what makes (or can make) writing magical.
There is so much that happens through and because of writing that it’s hard to decide where to start, like going into a new bookstore or pulling out my old vinyl records. Perhaps the place we almost have to start, though, is writing’s ability to inspire us to see things we might not otherwise see. Or put even simpler, the ability to notice.
According to Anne Lamott:
writing motivates us to look closely at life, as it lurks around and tranches by.
Writing teaches us to pay attention, and paying attention is perhaps one of the most important skills in life.
According to the legendary poet and author Mary Oliver:
this is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.
Which implies perhaps the most beautiful thing about writing: it makes you more whole. More of a complete person, not just a 9 to 5 — dinner — then TV — kind of person. But someone actually experiencing life. Engaging. Being. Noticing.
If writing is first about noticing, then I suppose it is secondly about distilling what is noticed. Learning to sit with the experiences of the day and trying to make sense of them, to organize them, to understand what it is that life is trying to teach us. And perhaps even more importantly, to try to understand ourselves, our thoughts, feelings, struggles, trajectories.
Mohsin Hamid, perhaps the most well known writer in present day Lahore, shared in his latest book that he wrote his first two novels to help him understand his split self and his split worlds.
And Mary Karr — in her incredible conversation with Krista Tippett — claims that writing helped her “get closer to who I really was.”
If it’s true that “the unexamined life is one not worth living,” then perhaps writing is a way to make our lives matter.
And if writing is firstly about noticing and then about processing, it is also about remembering what has been noticed and processed.
If we can barely remember what we ate last night for dinner, then imagine how easy it is to fly through life and forget the lessons we’ve learned, the beauty we’ve seen, even the struggles we’ve been able to overcome.
As the 60 year-old widow writes in a letter to his unlikely pen pal in the The Lunchbox:
perhaps we forget our stories if we have no one to tell them to.
In fact, this is the reason I first started blogging nearly 8 years ago, calling my blog the fragments, inspired by a line and idea from Elisabeth Elliot:
I suppose one of the reasons I have kept journals and diaries is this desire to gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing would be lost.
Years later, I often go back to these posts as a way to re-learn lessons that I’ve seemed to forget. Often times, this experience is like looking at my life through some type of matrix phenomenon, almost as if it was someone else who had written that original post and I was now reading something novel but that resonated very closely with a memory or feeling inside. Or sometimes it’s just a reminder of something I learned deeply at the time but have somehow lost sight of over the years.
I suppose even this post is an attempt at getting down how I feel about writing right now, so that one day if I forget or if I stop writing or feel discouraged, I can come back to it.
Perhaps in its final stage, writing can also be about helping create the world that we want to live in.
A few years ago I wrote about an idea from Mohsin Hamid, who said that:
art is dealing with the cracks, the unwillingness to accept the way things are.
And he elaborates on this idea in his latest book:
I suppose my personal need to write fiction comes from my inability entirely to accept our world as it is. When I write a novel, I am disappearing into another world, one of my own devising.
But I don’t desire to remain there, alone, apart, forever. I want to bring my imagined world back into our world, to share it, to have a reader enter it and shape it, to open a space for experimentation and imagination that crosses the boundaries of the self, of the real, of time.
Or as George Orwell describes it in Why I Write:
it’s the desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after.
Perhaps this is ultimately one of the most magical reasons to write, because somewhere along the journey we might have a chance to reshape how others experience the world. Or perhaps even beyond that, to be reshaped by the experiences they bring to our world. A chance to create — in the mystical words of Madeleine L’Engle — a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.