As someone who wants to write, I recently began asking myself the question of why it is that we, in general, write. In the simplest of terms, I think that writing serves as an extension ourselves, or more specifically, of our thoughts and our oral language, since it’s a practice of the everyday. In writing, we are attempting to take the thoughts we often turn into inarticulate speech and attempting to give them a sense of coherence.
Writing, much like oratory, is essentially the art of storytelling, which attempts to preserve, or document, some sort of “truth.” This can apply equally to fiction and nonfiction, both of which ask questions such as, “Who shot first, Han or Greedo?” The sharing of these truths communicates our own interpretations of something that is already established.
However, the oral is prone to error and wide interpretation, allowing for a distinct dichotomy between what may have actually happened and what was recorded. The benefit of the oral is in that those oratory stories can convey emotion through emphasis, and body language; however, the context can change depending on the space in which it was first heard, and the space in which it was retold. Oral retellings, in essence, are always mythic in nature.
Writing, on the other hand, is often seen as more rational: We are allowed to take our time to figure out the exact sentence structure, removing all room for error. It is temporal, in that it allows us to record a specific event and time, with the context of the delivery entirely removed. What differentiates writing from the oral is that writing is not done to seek truth in the general sense of the term, but rather as a very personal act of self-discovery. Many of the topics that we write about or find interesting often contain bits and pieces of ourselves.
Through this, writing is in effect a discourse of power. In psychoanalytic terms, we repeat the act of writing in order to get it right. So writing is inherently a violent act, since by attempting self-discovery, we initiate a process of a self-revisionist history. How many times have we looked back at the works that we have written, or things we have done, and thought to ourselves, “Man, I was really young,” or, “Man, I was really dumb.” The benefit of this violence is that, by externalizing ourselves, we are taking something that is intrinsically “us,” and letting others challenge and provoke our ideas about the topic at hand — and therefore, about ourselves. A completely objective third party has no social requirement to lie and be nice to us; they are allowed the position of being 100 percent honest. Writing, therefore, is industrious; we are often building something from nothing, developing and approaching a future notion of what we think we ought to be.
So why is it that I write, and want to continue to write? It’s because writing serves as a medium to connect two people who have never met over ideas they find interesting; it allows for a sense of commonality between two complete strangers; it serves as a different means of understanding ourselves, and, through the lens of ourselves, the world.