Why Write in a World Full of Words?

Stepped into Powell’s bookstore the other day. Always a mistake. Just the sight of all those books makes me feel like Chuck when the intersect kicks in and overloads his brain. So many books.

Depending on my mood, this generally leads to one of two reactions. Either I stroll quietly through the aisles like an explorer drifting down a newfound river, amazed by the towering trees and tangled vines, awed by the thought of all the new experiences that hide behind every leaf. Or I just get depressed.

So many books. Already more than the world needs. Yet more coming every day.

And still I write.

Does that make any sense? What kind of idiot continues to write in a world already bloated by the constant consumption of its own publications? That seems a bit like watering your lawn during a flood.

And still I write. Why?

Part of it is that I just like words. I like how they feel on the tongue, the way they dance on the page, the vivid colors they splash across the world. Words are cool, and I enjoy using them to create things. If I could draw, I’d probably feel the same way about shapes and colors. But my daughters have forbidden me from drawing anymore. So I’ll stick with words.

I also like how writing helps me think. For me, unwritten thoughts are like that toy in the store you wanted so desperately as a kid. It looked amazing there on the shelf, safely encased in its bombproof plastic. And it retained its aura of abstract awesomeness as long as it stayed on the shelf. But bringing it home changed everything: the gun that didn’t really shoot lasers, the wings that quickly broke, and the sound effects that were actually pretty lame. Home is where reality lives.

In some ways, writing is about bringing my own thoughts home. Ideas always seem pretty cool locked safely away in the confines of my own mind. Writing forces me to remove the packaging, put the pieces together, and see if the darn thing actually works.

Thus, much of my writing is for me. It’s about enjoying the interplay of words and playing with new ideas. I like how Elizabeth Barrett Browning said it in this stanza, which is what sparked this post in the first place:

Of writing many books there is no end;
And I who have written much in prose and verse
For others’ uses, will write now for mine,—
Will write my story for my better self,
As when you paint your portrait for a friend,
Who keeps it in a drawer and looks at it
Long after he has ceased to love you, just
To hold together what he was and is.

~Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh, 1857

So writing is somewhat selfish. It’s about how the writing process shapes the writer.

I’d be lying if I said that’s all there was to it. Would I keep writing if no one was reading, like the lonely guy mumbling to himself as he walks down the street? Of course not. If that’s what I wanted, I’d be writing all of this in my journal, the one with the purple butterflies on the cover. But I’m not. And that’s because I also write to communicate, to share ideas with others and hear what they think about them. Even if it’s been said before, there’s something to be gained from saying it again, in a new way, to new people, in a new conversation. For me, writing is selfish, but not exclusively so.

The world has enough words, and still I write. Oddly, that makes sense to me.




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