Why Do We Write?

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Pauline's response to my previous post, "Why Do We Read", has given me an idea for a related thread, "Why Do We Write?" I know many of you address this issue in your online journals, but I thought it might be interesting (and convenient) to have a collection of those motivations in one place.

My own reasons are varied. For one thing, I find that I don't express myself as well verbally, having a tendency to get tongue-tied. I like to consider what I'm going to say before blurting it out, and verbal conversations don't afford me enough time to do that. Writing gives me the opportunity to make more in-depth observations. Often, writing will lead me to a better understanding of myself, and even an occasional revelation! (R-E-F-L-E-C-T, find out what it means to me!)

While I don't keep any kind of journal or diary, I do indulge the frustrated writer lurking within on a fairly regular basis, in the form of letter writing. As Pauline mentioned, we email each other on a daily basis, and she sure does keep me on my toes! I also exchange lengthy missives (25 pages and upward) with a friend in Pennsylvania. Our correspondences are written in installments, and mailed at intervals of approximately every six months. We also include lots of photos, and find this a very satisfying way to stay in touch. Sometimes my mood is light and casual; at others, it is bruised and introspective. My letters are typically full of whining, joking, soul-baring, and boasting (usually about my kids). During my darker moments, I find that writing about my feelings (and what causes them) really can be therapeutic. This catharsis doesn't exactly purge me of all negative feelings, but it does help to lessen my load considerably.

That said, I suppose it could be argued that sharing my triumphs and/or failures with a larger audience through an online journal would lighten my burden even more. Perhaps that's true. But, the recipients of my letters and email are a "captive" audience. And, it's a lot easier to share my thoughts and feelings with a dear friend than a total stranger. Of course, the opinion of those I care about is very important to me, but I don't OBSESS about it the way I would over the general opinion of an online readership.

Pauline says online journallers don't have the answers to "what would I write about" and "do I have anything worthwhile to say?" But, I say you DO, as is evidenced in your journals! She also says: "You're not supposed to worry about whether other people will read or not. You're supposed to tell yourself you're doing it only for yourself and it's just a quirk of nature that your diary happens to be on the Internet!" Well, if I'm only doing it for myself, why bother doing it in this particular fashion? Why set myself up for potential disappointment in the event that my journal didn't catch on? Why not just continue exercising my desire (and even need, because writing IS a compulsion) to share thoughts and feelings and exorcise demons through written expression the way I have been for so many years - in the form of letters to trusted friends?

Finally, I'd have to put a great deal of thought into an online journal, and most of my brain cells are otherwise occupied... Worrying about presenting my thoughts coherently is something I don't feel well equipped to deal with right now. I have too many doubts about the success of such an endeavor, and don't feel capable enough to pull it off. In the meantime, I am content with this forum, and this opportunity to think aloud, so to speak, and dissect my thoughts and emotions without making a more permanent commitment, as would be necessary with an online journal of my own. Still, who knows... maybe some day I'll take the plunge, with Pauline's help!

In closing, I'd like to share something a close friend wrote in a recent email, in reference to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, author of A Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovitch, and the staggering Gulag Archipelago.

"When Solzhenitsyn was writing in secret in Russia, paper was such a luxury to him. Where we in the West have the freedom to scrawl haphazardly across a seemingly endless supply of paper, Solzhenitsyn literally could not waste a square inch of paper. Every blank space had to be filled with his brilliance before he dared move on to another piece lest he run out of pages, and not transmit his profound thoughts to a world in desperate need of them."

Reading the above is a humbling experience for me. Certainly, the world is not in desperate need of MY thoughts, so I am especially appreciative of those taking the time to read this, and perhaps comment on it.

-- Stephanie (stevie@idsi.net), March 02, 2001


Wow. Good old Solzy always makes me think, and this anecdote works just as well as any of his own words do.

Why do I write? Or why do I write online? I write because I have no real choice. I've kept a journal ever since I was twelve years old. Things weren't real until they were recorded. I couldn't sort out my feelings until I'd written pages and pages in a spiral- bound notebook. (Solzhenitsyn would be revolted by my decadence!) About the time I developed the world's largest callus on the middle finger of my right hand, I took my journal to the computer.

Once I was writing on my computer, it was a small step to learn html and upload it once in a while. I saw the other journals out there, and I knew that I was a better writer than most (present company excluded, you guys are the creme de la creme!) and had as much to share as most. Granted my life these days is a hell of a lot more mundane than it used to be, but I still have thoughts and feelings that others may be interested in.

And I wrote and wrote for quite some time, knowing that the only people visiting my journal were friends in faraway cities to whom I had told the url. But little by little, I acquired readers through webrings and links. And, of course, through the inevitable Yahoo search for "diapers."

A while ago I wrote an entry describing a really disturbing turn of events. I was finding myself not reacting to especially happy or funny or moving events in my life not by displaying the appropriate emotion, but by immediately thinking to myself, "Damn! This would make a great journal entry!" The second I realized that the need for external validation that I thought had died long ago was back, I re- thought the whole process.

The reason I went online in the first place, or at least the reason I made myself believe, was to hone my writing skills. I write a lot differently when I suspect the words might someday be read. I can write notebooks full of crap for myself, but until you introduce "the reader," I can't force myself to do the very best job possible. So I went back to that ideal. If someone reads me and likes me, that's great. If someone reads me and thinks I'm a "Walmart- shopping, frozen-dinner preparing hick with dull little eyes," hopefully they'll just never read again. (Actual words from actual person, though I suspect they never took the time to read an entry.)

Anyway, yeah. . . . That's why I write!

Julie's Journal.

-- Julie V (vandenboom@msn.com), March 03, 2001.

Julie's post really made me stop and think about something I hadn't fully considered before. She says she kept a journal as a young girl because "things weren't real until they were recorded." More recently, she is disturbed to realize she finds herself looking for "external validation," and "not reacting to especially happy or funny or moving events in my life not by displaying the appropriate emotion, but by immediately thinking to myself, "Damn! This would make a great journal entry!"

Even though I don't have an online journal myself, I can still relate to that because I do the same thing with letter-writing. Almost as soon as an event takes shape in my life, I can't wait to get to the computer to make a record of it. For example, I found myself tapping away at the keyboard within an hour of arriving home after having pelvic surgery, and continued to drag myself to the PC several times throughout each day of my recovery, despite the fact that I was in a great deal of pain. I suppose this is a form of addiction, albeit a less threatening one than others.

Julie, I tried to find the entry you wrote about "rethinking the whole process," but wasn't up to the task without a better idea of where to look... My need for instant gratification makes me impatient with sorting through archival collections, so maybe you could give me a push in the right direction?

Another point that really hit home was the one about using online journals to fine-tune your writing skills. Like you, I find that my writing improves significantly when I know it will come under public scrutiny, so perhaps that would be another good reason for me to "join the club"...

-- Stephanie (stevie@idsi.net), March 04, 2001.

It wasn't too easy for me to find the entry, either! It would probably help if I gave titles but I just use dates. And thanks for making me look -- I found a couple links between entries that weren't working.

So here it is. At the very end of the entry. I don't think it goes into much more detail than I did here.

Stephanie, I must add my name to the list -- let me know when you start your journal! You'll be doing things in the reverse of me -- first you have an audience, and then you start your journal.

-- Julie Vandenboom (vandenboom@msn.com), March 04, 2001.

Hey Julie, thanks for digging up the link for me! I found your reasons for keeping an online journal (rather than a private one) very interesting. We all seek approval in one way or another, but I try to solicit favorable attention in ways that involve less risk to my already frail ego. I envy the rest of you your thick skin, and can only hope exposure to this group will serve to toughen me up a bit!

-- Stephanie (stevie@idsi.net), March 04, 2001.

This group? I beg to differ - my readers are pussycats!

If you want toughening up, check out diary-l..

-- Pauline (p_brock@hotmail.com), March 04, 2001.

Why do we write, huh.. (I think I'm going to save the tangent on external validation for an entry, and just address the original question now.)

Because I can't paint or dance or compose music?

Really, I don't have a good answer. I didn't always write but it's something I have to do now.

When I discovered online journals I knew I had to have one. I rarely feel the sort of unwavering committment to anything (besides my kids) that I felt towards creating the journal.. it was almost scary.

I won't pretend I don't write to be read, but it's more than that. I'd have way more readers (good grammar, eh) if I wrote erotic and/or angsty stuff.. erotic angst, that works..

Some of the time it's to get stuff off my chest; sometimes it's to help work out problems; sometimes it's to make sure that I exist. I write, therefore I am?

Why is it online? Because I wouldn't do it just for myself. I've tried and it doesn't work. It sounds egotistical to claim that I write FOR others but I honestly think I have something to say, and that I can say things that others can recognize and relate to.

That doesn't really answer the WHY though.

Well I hope this post clarified things...

-- Pauline (p_brock@hotmail.com), March 04, 2001.

I was referring to the groups' collective (and enviable) air of self- confidence, not menacing postures! Sheesh! See what I mean about Pauline keeping me on my toes??

-- Stephanie (stevie@idsi.net), March 05, 2001.

THE ANSWER: You are going to write this down, for this is one of Life's great mysteries. WRITING IS POWER. That's right, you heard me. Writing is Power. In fact, it is the most power many of us will ever have. Most of us will never write a law that affects hundreds, win a world series, paint a Sistine, sculpt a Thinker, save a child from a burning building, stop a war through an act of peace, win a Nobel prize, or sit as President of the United States. But most of us will write. If not for our jobs, we can write for ourselves or our descendants We each have that power and that right. But this doesn't tell you how writing is power. Writing is power in that it makes people think, often whether they want to or not. When we read, we only think about, we only see, hear, consider, or imagine what the author has chosen to write on the page. Our world is the author's world. If the writer has done a good job, the reader carries a piece of that world with him when he turns the page or closes the book. OK, you say, "If you say so Voice Form the Great Beyond, but where's the proof?" Have you ever read an article that made you question what you believe or angered you because the author's voice was so clear in that work that you were moved to debate with him or her? Have you read a novel that made you mourn for a character who died or a poem that inspired you to write one of your own. Have you ever read piece of writing that, when you were finished, made you say, "That's about me, or "I know how that feels"? Ever read The Diary of Anne Frank? Anne wrote for herself, and yet her work is one of the most translated and read works in the world. In her words, she lives even though she died over 40 years ago. As you can see writing is power.

-- ben (koylu16@hotmail.com), August 29, 2002.

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