Why Do You Write and Why Does It Matter?

Credit: Ash4fire

Why do I write? To get out of my head for the most part. I’m a thinker and a dreamer. If I don’t write things down, it disappears into the mist of lost thoughts. This is the simple reason of why I chose to become a writer. The other side of the coin, and the ultimate reason for my writing, comes from my father. He is a master oral storyteller. My father can captivate even the smallest child and the oldest adult simply by weaving a tapestry of words, actions, and sounds. Sometimes, he acts out the scenes with common, simple props. But it is always with humor, silliness, and wit, to draw the listeners in until they are so lost in the story, when the main point is driven home, they gasp in astonishment and wonder. Yet, every story he tells is a way to teach ethics, values, and morals. He tells stories to provide comfort, illuminate direction, and to encourage others. I want to write stories the way he tells stories.

Storytelling is a means for sharing and interpreting experiences. Stories are universal in that they can bridge cultural, linguistic and age-related divides. Storytelling can be used as a method to teach ethics, values, and cultural norms and differences. Learning is most effective when it takes place in social environments that provide authentic social cues about how knowledge is to be applied. Stories provide a tool to transfer knowledge in a social context.

Human knowledge is based on stories and the human brain consists of cognitive machinery necessary to understand, remember and tell storiesHumans are storytelling organisms that both individually and socially, lead storied lives. Stories mirror human thought as humans think in narrative structures and most often remember facts in story form. Facts can be understood as smaller versions of a larger story thus storytelling can supplement analytical thinking.

Stories are effective educational tools because listeners become engaged and therefore remember. While the listener is engaged, they are able to imagine new perspectives, inviting a transformative and empathetic experience. Listening to a storyteller can create lasting personal connections, promote innovative problem solving and foster a shared understanding regarding future ambitions. The listener can then activate knowledge and imagine new possibilities. Together a storyteller and listener can seek best practices and invent new solutions.

Stories tend to be based on experiential learning, but learning from an experience is not automatic. Often a person needs to attempt to tell the story about that experience before realizing its value. In this case it is not only the listener that learns, but also the teller who becomes aware of their own unique experiences and backgrounds. This process of storytelling is empowering as the teller effectively conveys ideas and with practice is able to demonstrate the potential of human accomplishment. Story taps into existing knowledge and creates bridges both culturally and motivationally toward a solution.

I remember my father telling the story of how, as a child, he wanted to be just like his hero Superman and fly. He carried a ladder and propped it against the side of the house, then proceeded to scramble up the ladder to the rooftop. His yellow “Superman” cape flapped in the breeze as he gazed at the sky. And off he leaped into the air! Only to discover that humans can’t fly like Superman (of course). He crashed into the ground, broke both his wrists, and his leg. This tale leads into the comic aside of how, since he broke his wrists, he no longer floats in water. Instead, only his hands and wrists float and the rest of him sinks like a cement brick. (I’m not sure how accurate the reason is for the floating/sinking, but I do know from first-hand experience, he truly doesn’t float. Only his hands and wrists do!) Children and adults alike are stupefied, laughing, and in awe that he attempted something so irrational.  As he has them in the palm of his hands, he weaves the tale of heroes, and how we want to be like our heroes, and what his new hero, God, can do.

Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird, points out that becoming a writer is about becoming conscious. When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have ability to “throw the lights on” for your reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have painted. If something inside you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Tell the truth as you understand it.

Lamott shares a beautiful analogy in Bird by Bird.

You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sand castles with words, who is willing to create a place where your imagination can wander. We build this place with the sand of memories; these castles are our memories and inventiveness made tangible. So part of us believes that when the tide starts coming in, we won’t really have lost anything, because actually only a symbol of it was there in the sand. Another part of us thinks we’ll figure out a way to divert the ocean. this is what separates artists from ordinary people: the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won’t wash them away. I think this is a wonderful kind of person to be.

As she exhorts, don’t underestimate this gift of finding a place in the writing world: if you really work at describing creatively on paper the truth as you understand it, as you have experienced it, with the people or material who are in you, who are asking that you help them get written, you will come to a secret feeling of honor. Being a writer is part of a noble tradition. No matter what happens in terms of fame and fortune, dedication to writing is a marching-step forward from where you were before, when you didn’t care about reaching out to the world, when you weren’t hoping to contribute, when you were just standing there doing some job into which you had fallen.

Even if only the people in your writing group read your memoirs or stories or novel, even if you only wrote your story so that one day your children would know what life was like when you were a child – still, to have written your version is an honorable thing to have done. Against all odds, you have put it down on paper, so that it won’t be lost. And who knows? Maybe what you’ve written will help others, will be a small part of the solution.

So why does our writing matter, again? Because of the spirit. Because of the heart. Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a chance to dance with, or at least clap along with, the absurdity of life instead of being squashed by it over and over again. As Lamott puts it, “It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”

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