effort / writers / writing

The Wrong Explanation

Why I Write by George Orwell…have you read it?

Many other writers have taken this title and run with it. Have you?

When non-writers ask, “Why do you write?” maybe they should be asked, “Why don’t you?”

What if all written words vanished? What if every written word in the world–in every language–drifted up into the atmosphere never to be seen again? No words in books, no words on billboards, no words on cereal boxes, no words on the Internet, no captions, no words anywhere at all. What would you do? What if you took out a pen, wrote your name on a piece of paper, and saw it disappear?

Would you value writing then?

Why are people so afraid of writing? Why do they balk at writing when they can express themselves and take time to consider what to say? Why is that so hard?

If the government decreed there would be no more writing–all writing banned–would it become more meaningful?

I don’t know. I am full of questions…

11 thoughts on “The Wrong Explanation

  1. Some people don’t feel the need to write. That’s all right. If everyone wrote, there would be too much to read. I’m doing some proofreading for someone now. I think what I’m doing is simple, but he’s delighted with it. Some people find it hard to see mistakes in text, while for others the mistakes jump out at them. Some people enjoy writing, others don’t. We’re all different and that’s good.

    • Miriam, Hello again!

      Well, I don’t question why writing isn’t a calling for some people. I question, I suppose, the way so many of my students react to the idea of writing. Most of them think writing fiction is unnecessary–they like only reading things that “teach something.” And even with nonfiction they don’t see why they should practice writing or be interested in doing it well. I mean, take things like driving. You might not like driving but there is a reason to do it well. And writing isn’t driving, but I’m tired of the resistance and whining I put up with from students. I don’t need them to love it, but I wouldn’t mind a bit less hate.

  2. Writing would definitely become more valuable if the government banned it. People want what they can’t have. Look at Prohibition – people did all kinds of illegal things in order to keep the alcohol flowing during that time. If writing were illegal, more people would do it and there would be an increase in underground self-publishing in order to keep the written word alive.

    • I once read something about why Russia produced so much great literature and Switzerland…not so much. The amount of freedom in each country had something to do with it…according to the argument. Don’t know if that is the right argument to make, but it was interesting to think about it.

      And banning writing seems a high price to pay to develop a passion for the written word.

  3. What if you took out a pen, wrote your name on a piece of paper, and saw it disappear?

    The way you casually toss off these little gems just kills me. (Er, in a good way. :))

    When I was teaching — English and journalism, public high school — I really had only one goal: to make kids comfortable with language. So many people get so freaked out by the necessity of putting words to paper — so freaked out that they freeze, or talk/write nonsense. Generating verbiage for its own sake. I think a lot of this came from overly-correct grammar drills and so on; they were so afraid of getting it “wrong.” So I tried never to attack the expression (even when it was leaden, artificial, whatever), but to say — not in so many words — “Look, see here? You didn’t sound at all comfortable when you wrote that. Is it something you really believe? How would you say it to me if you were just talking rather than capital-W Writing?” The idea of writing conversationally blew many of their minds. (Which was kinda sad.)

    • I can’t take total credit for the disappearing words. Have you seen the film Spirited Away? (You should!) The little girl sign a contract for a job in the bathhouse for the spirits. The witch, Yubaba, takes the contract, holds her hand over the signature and the characters peel off the paper and float into Yubaba’s hand. The little girl, Chihiro, has signed away her name and given a new one, Sen.

      So anyway, the film gave me the idea.

      My students tend to be so resistant to writing…I get frustrated.

  4. Writing is a tool we have for expressing ourselves and changing the world. That said, there is also this bias in writing circles that writing only counts if you can be great at it. But in fact, writing that only has a smidgen of greatness here and there can have enormous impact on making people question the way they see the world and behave. For me, I write out of a passion for whatever it is I am writing about. It makes me feel better just to put it into words, like people who sit and talk to a therapist and no on else knows what they are saying. But I have the added desire of wanting to be heard by more than just one person. Naive as it seems, I really do want to change the world.

    • One thing I love about my students’ writings, is that–when they manage to really put a modicum of effort into it–what they write is true and and wonderful. Not that it is “well-written” exactly. Sentences are confusing, grammar is muddled, spelling is interesting. But nonetheless they can be great. The other day I was telling a student what a good writer he was. He looked at the grammar corrections and shook his head. He couldn’t be a good writer–look at the mistakes. And it took a while to convince him that by good writer I didn’t mean perfect grammar. Plenty of students had excellent grammar but their words just sat on the page. He had an eye for detail and an original way of noting what he saw. Anyway, he seemed pleased and embarrassed. But I hope he remembers what I said and feels better about the next time he has to write.

      I’d like to change the world of a reader…does that count?

      • Absolutely. Your description of being moved by your students’ writing reminds me of hearing people’s stories all day as a therapist. If I read transcripts of the sessions, the writing would be as you describe, but nevertheless, the words are transformative, both for the writer/patient/student and the reader/therapist/teacher.

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