I’m not a writer. Writing is a craft, and a trade, and I am neither its master craftsman nor its dutiful apprentice. In the past I wrote when I had to, as a means to an end, or to move the world in my direction: finish a term paper, push out a cover letter, draft a press release. What’s the point of writing more?
I work at Thought Catalog now. In exchange for having expertise in online advertising operations, I spend my days alongside real writers, reading real writing, sitting still as this whole amazing Thought Catalog community whirrs around me. I’ve learned a few things, I think. I’ve learned what makes real writing real.
Writing is hard work. It’s smoothing, and polishing, and tucking in the elbows of each paragraph. It’s voice and technique and practice. It’s mastering style with form, power with control. And I think I know what it’s all for. It’s for getting closer to the page. It is for getting closer to yourself, to get yourself closer to the page.
Norman Mailer once said, “every one of my books has killed me a little bit more.” This is why: a writer leaves himself on the page.
So what does that mean for us, readers and fans, entrepreneurs or explorers, humans of any stripe with passion and purpose for life? What does it mean for those of us who have neither the practice, nor the talent, nor the commitment to artfully splatter our souls all over pages? Why should everyone write?
Everyone should write because writing makes us decide what we believe — and so it makes us decide who we are. Life is mysterious, and unstable. Writing forces us to draw lines. It’s humbling because we will never hit the mark perfectly. But we must try to get as close as we can. Great writing, as Tolstoy had it, is writing that teaches us how to live. And Faulkner said that the writer must not forget it is “the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing, because it is the only thing worth writing about.”
Tolstoy also said: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
It’s a struggle. You think you can fling out words and they will fall into pretty little constellations and construct a whole little universe, where all needs are spoken for and problems are solved. It’s not that easy. But the craft of writing means addressing these problems, and addressing what we really believe, and who we really are. The art is secondary. Doing the work is what matters most.
Writing also makes us vulnerable. Yet if we don’t write, we are vulnerable just the same. It is only that writing makes us think about things, codify them, and chisel them into stone. People can look at it, hold it in their hands, judge it. But the thing is, I think, that with time and mortality as facts of life there is only one judgement that means anything: to ourselves — who we were, and what we believed. By writing, we can live with this always in mind.
I used to write as a means to an end, and I still do. But now, writing doesn’t make the world how I want it to be. It makes me how I want to be for the world. It forces me to figure things out, as best I can, and to declare publicly who I am. That, so far, is the best way I’ve found to being who I want to be. It’s what life’s about. And that is why everyone should write.