Writers live twice. They go along with their regular life, are as fast as anyone in the grocery store, crossing the street, getting dressed for work in the morning. But there’s another part of them that they have been training. The one that lives every second at a time. That sits down and sees their life again and goes over it. Looks at the texture and details.
As time goes by, writing is becoming increasingly unfashionable. It is like painting for photography, classical music for contemporary music, or e-mail for social media. It is becoming a niche – dare to say a select niche – but undoubtedly a niche.
Writing requires certain qualities from the author: sufficiently sized general knowledge and a decent amount of previous reading experience, a creative mind and a desire to frustrate oneself so as to spend hours writing and then refining the brute material. More recently, it requires some marketing abilities so as to be able to reach people one might never reach. But writing also demands some qualities from the readers: the ability to resist the temptation of attention-grabbing social media memes, flashy images, short videos or sensational news stories, while at the same time being able to tolerate the frustration of reading longer texts, that is, texts taking more than a couple of seconds to read.
Historically, there have been jobs that have been lost because they no longer had function in society. Writing was, and still is for now, the way to pass information from one generation to another. This is how we are not forced to learn or rediscover everything from the beginning; we read what the others did and what the others have felt, and we avoid falling in the same old traps or we learn how to do things differently. However, more and more, writing and reading – this couple that goes hand in hand – have been gradually replaced by video making and video watching. The spoken language and the moving images are definitely easier to generate and later consume, as the amount of conveyed information is significantly bigger and the necessary amount of time and attention are much reduced. Yes, videos are more efficient ways of communication and of acquiring knowledge.
Yet, there are advantages of writing that the video streaming world can’t overcome. However these advantages are relevant only for a selected “club” of people who value these skills. In other words, it’s not for everyone.
Writing forces you to organize your thoughts and define your emotions. When you speak, you tend to unnecessarily digress, to start with several ideas at the same time and finish only with a few while losing others in the process. Or you tend to emphasize some ideas and not explore others because your mind tends to wander from one subject to another. In other words, when talking, you tend to lose discipline and structure. In writing however, since it’s not bound by the intonation of your voice or by your non-verbal attitude and gestures, every error of thinking or structuring is obviously visible. Writing is in itself a rational and structuring activity that forces upon you discipline and coherence, while also making you work more on your content. There has been shown that conscientious people (diligent and meticulous at the same time) are more successful in life (including from a financial point of view) compared to scatter-minded people who work chaotically (unless those hectic minds are not geniuses, which is rare). Being able to write a coherent letter or an intelligible professional report is the hallmark of a well-balanced and proficient leader or manager.
Writing is also forcing you to have an insanely long attention span, something that equally applies to reading. I used “insane” because the attention span of today’s generation is “insanely” short. There were studies made on this but, if you are a social media user, you can do the same experiment yourself: just try to remember what you saw last time when you browsed through your “feed” of short videos or memes! Can you name what you retained from them? What was the main idea? What enriched you psychologically or philosophically, what was the “added value” from your last binge of social media? You might discover that you remember nothing. Actually, the short attention span combined with irrelevant information that does not contribute to your education or wisdom, is doing nothing but allows you to enter a trance-like mental state, in which you absent-mindedly scroll through information that is not memorized because it enters in the short-time memory and is immediately emptied so as to make place for new information that is almost instantly going to be forgotten as well. In this way, you may spend years on social media and learn nothing. You may say that social media keeps you entertained, it helps you relax, which is totally fine. But excessively doing this in an addiction-like manner or doing this all the time is going to impact your “continuous learning while going through life”, as the day keeps having 24 hours and no more, so you need to prioritize one activity over another. For the select “club” of writers and/or readers, leading an empty, mindlessly numb life is not acceptable, as it has an impact on the value of our life’s time.
In the end, a third advantage of writing is living a creative life, and this is also important for a minority of people. Most people are born with very basic needs and follow the general prescriptions given by society: get educated, get a job, get a family, own a house, retire, travel and die. However, for some people from this aforementioned club, “ordinary” is not enough. They need the transcendental dimension, the inspiring and artistic stuff. They need to go beyond their mundane condition and walk on the edge of the known world. How can I say the same thing in a different way? How can I proper use a metaphor? How can I do things in an aesthetically powerful way? What insights can I get even from the most uninteresting encounter? How can I perceive the world and myself (or the other) differently? These are questions which haunt few people… And writing enables some of us to go to this unexplored territory, perhaps in search of some elusive sacredness, while others who read our writing join us in our quest. But for this, one needs imagination. And both writing and reading abundantly use it, which is different from the nowadays content creators who just show you, unequivocally, what you must perceive. Writing is about creating illusory worlds or just about reframing reality, it’s about asking questions and sometimes suggesting unusual answers, while reading is about hallucinating those worlds and consequently having otherworldly revelatory experiences, or just changing the frame and get that “beginner’s eye” view, uncluttered by one’s preconceived ideas about reality.
So, do you still read? Have you tried writing? You think you’re not great. But maybe you are!