Last week I was talking with a friend about why I write. Rather, I should say, I talked to a friend about why, for many months now, I haven’t been writing consistently. I explained why writing is important to me. I write to get the stuff that hangs around in my head out of my head. If it’s on paper, I don’t have to carry whatever it is in my head: worries, story ideas, poem fragments, the grocery list, moments that would otherwise be lost, the list of jobs around the house, and the voices in my head that are rarely silent and crowd out my priorities. Since that conversation, a few thoughts have been rattling around in my head, so I’m letting them out.
I write to remember – to remember things I want to remember, and to remember things I’d rather forget. Yes, that is a contradiction, and I am full of contradictions. Why would we want to remember the things we’d rather forget? To forget is often preferable – especially when the forgetting of a thing feels better than remembering. I write to remember for the same reasons we create public monuments: to celebrate, to honor, and to commemorate. I write to remember both the joyful moments and the somber moments of my life, for without somber moments I would not recognize joyful ones.
I write to learn and share ideas. Sometimes learning is personal, but I also write to share what I have learned by observing, researching, and examining ideas and events. The exchange of ideas promotes free speech, critical thinking, and literacy. Writing an essay that helps clarify an idea or express a new point of view on a topic is an act of learning. Writing a persuasive piece is an opportunity to influence others. Writing a letter to the editor or commenting on a New York Times article allows me to express my opinion on a topic. Without writing, learning is lost. So is freedom of expression.
I write to create. Imagination and creativity should have no limits, and in creating stories, poems, and characters, I can make time stand still, move forward, backward, or turn upside down. As a creative writer, I can create utopias, dystopias, a view from inside a flower or a gun. I can adopt a persona and write from someone else’s point of view. Writing is as necessary to me as eating, breathing, and sleeping. When I have intervals in which I do not write, I begin to die.
I write to live. Finally, the raw truth emerged from the rubble of my thoughts. Talking with my friend and reflecting on that conversation reminded me that I’ve been neglecting the act of writing – a practice that feeds my soul. I’ve written in a journal for over three decades, sometimes two or three journals at once, some of them include writing exercises, some personal reflections, and some poetry. I’ve submitted pieces on occasion, and a couple of times my writing has been published. The point that my friend helped me see clearly is that writing makes me feel alive, and it doesn’t matter if anyone else reads it.
(P.S. I also write because I have something to say, so I always have an audience in mind, even if that audience is one.)