“We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason they write so very little. But we do. We have so much we want to say and figure out.” - Anne Lamott Bird by Bird
I’m a bit of a contemplative, to be sure. I’m reading the book Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think edited by John Brockman (@edge). It is a collection of 150 essays by today’s leading thinkers in technology, art and science. And it got the old noggin to ponder about the uniquely human act of writing. Not communicating. Any old plant or insect does that. But writing.
It occurred to me how ancient writing is. People who study such things claim that even prior to spoken language the prehistoric human felt driven to express herself by drawing on the cave wall. To communicate… through writing… is truly a primal force that compels us.
I would then say that when we write, we are drawing on something deep within us that predates the pen and paper. Something very, very old. It predates even the necessity to communicate through the written word. It’s strange. It excites me.
It makes me think it has its rudiments somewhere deep in the code of DNA then. To the spiritual among us, they would claim that it is a God-authored drive. I kind of like the romance of that notion. The more prosaic in our ranks would argue that it is an emergent property that developed as tribes solidified and chores were assigned allowing us more free time to create and express. Still others would say it is an overdetermined phenomenon and probably has multiple factors involving its arrival in the human psyche. I simply don’t know. And past the fact that it is an ancient scenario, my pontifications on the reasons and the modality fail me. I can’t figure it all out.
But what I do know: It’s there. It is in all of us. We want to write. From crayons to keyboards, the proclivity stays with us our whole lives.
Sure, a select and esoteric few are genius at it. Most of us fall in the skill level of writing that the average population does with math - we know a little more than enough to balance our check books and get the taxes done. I suspect, though, we could do a lot better if we wanted to. All primitive tribes have language. There are a few that have no more than two words for math, however. It seems that to count was not as important to survival - to being human - as to communicate and to write. I can relate. I would much rather write in my spare time than do calculus.
So I started wondering. In the age where social media ubiquity offers the unprecedented forum to write and to have people read it - why aren’t more people writing? Oh sure, they post about lunch. They post cute pictures with cats. They even let you know when they entered or exited a relationship (something I would never post about but absolutely love reading from others). But, surely, more of them ought to be blogging. Right? I mean in paragraphs. You know the sort of thing: a topic sentence, middle progression, and a cogent end bringing it all together for the reader.
Ah. I just dismissed it as fear. Laziness. Or maybe people are too busy.
But something nagged at me telling me there is more. Everyone has hobbies, interests and opinions. I know they can articulate them - they do every day at Starbucks. And then, right in the middle of my caramel frothy thing, I heard someone say, “Yeah, but no one wants to hear what I have to say.”
Now that is an entirely different objection to writing from fear, skill or accessibility to audience. That’s about relevance.
People who say that no one wants to hear what they have to say often make the declaration with such authority that I often wonder how they obtained such absolute, god-like knowledge. You mean no one - at all - wants to hear anything - at all - about your story? At all? Wow. How’d you find that out?
I am thinking the average person feels like there are too many people crowded in the cave. And who wants to see one more pictograph of a man slaying a deer in the forest!
So… whatever you feel about the subject of writing… you still have that thought to do it, don’t you? It may not be with you like a sickness. Like the “ick” that all adored writers through the ages declared they had to surrender to or face insanity. You may not have it like that. But to write is there. It may only feel like a shoe that doesn’t fit quite right. You can still walk just fine. You get through the day. But you are aware of its presence, its almost quiet ache nonetheless.
Arguing with your inner writer only leaves you exhausted and angry. Quit fighting.
I want to tell you today that I still want to see your drawing on the wall. I am convinced that being in the lineage of the ancient man with the same desire, you too, have returned from the hunt with a story to tell. I’ll even go to your cave to learn about it.
You may not be able to draw your story with the detail or shadowing of some. But should that alone prohibit you from taking up the pen? No one else can write your story for you. Not really. While the plots may vary but little, the voice of every storyteller is different. Always.
I want to hear about your journey. I do. I am a bit of a nosey quidnunc… fine. But I know others who want to hear you as well.
It is a human and ancient thing to sit alone somewhere and read the thoughts of another from a page. It wakes me up. It gets me thinking. At times it makes me outraged. I laugh. I remember. It takes me to new places. I can’t always determine whose words it will be that do all that for me.
So don’t just write for yourself. Write for me. Write for all of humankind.