On Writing

In the June 20, 2011 issue of Time, David McCullough discusses writing and its importance (10 Questions):

“The loss of people writing—writing a composition, a letter or a report—is not just the loss of the process of working your thoughts out on paper, of having an idea that you would never have had if you weren’t [writing]. And that’s a handicap. People [I research] were writing letters every day. That was calisthenics for the brain.”

This is why I write and why I don’t feel I’ve done a day justice if I don’t write. Writing helps me document my thoughts, organize and make sense of them i.e. connect them with the overall picture of thoughts I’ve been constructing all my life, and, in the process, stumble into insights and new ways of seeing myself and the world.

Assuredly there are many other people who don’t think of writing on par almost with sleep or eating. They go through life unconcerned with meaning or significance. What’s happening now is all that matters and it is good enough. I am everlastingly concerned about myself, how I should live, why I should live. I’m a masochist, and selfish to boot.

Writing for me surely is both familiar pleasure and questionable good. Writing is one activity I’ve done for so long and done so long because it has repeatedly given pleasure. I say I write to know myself—the “unexamined life” and all that—but its benefit here is dubious. I write because I enjoy writing.

I might even essay that I need to write as some people need to paint or versify or run for political office. It’s my true vocation, not the avocation it was through my adult life till now. I love the slippery rocks that are the words and phrases writers employ to enter into their world of creation. Sometimes they’re just there at the river where you’re crossing it to the other bank but usually you have to go up or downriver searching for just the size or heft of combination of them you need for the hut you’re building by the rushing waters.

Writing is meditation. Both the external and the familiar, doggedly pernicious internal world disappear; I even disappear. There are just the ideas with their precious freight of energy.

When writing my whole responsibility is simply to respect the energy and let it lead me where it may that I can take the ideas to a kind of universal intelligibility. For me this is art: transforming an individual experience, object or idea into its superhuman relative, which communicates that something behind it to anyone who’s looking.

Let those with eyes see… but first I must see it with my own inner eye. Art is really just the energy artists struggle to find within themselves, a primordial, archetypal energy like to that of Yahweh or the artificers of the world’s great myths and religions.

So writing is an activity within the realm of the religious, if by religion we mean our yoking ourselves to something bigger than we are. Writing is a writer’s vehicle to transcendence as painting to a painter, sculpture to a sculptor, mathematizing to a scientist.