# 26: Why Write?
Story behind the Passage
Today I got a surprise call from a dear friend of mine. It ended up being an intense conversation, but a very helpful and deep one — with true meaning for both parties. My friend repeatedly tried to explain to me what it means to be an artist. I mean, he used different words for this but basically that was what he was describing when he used phrases such as “not really part of this world… expressing something out of this deep pure source within … not caring about material possessions.” I repeatedly said: “Yes, I understand, I am a writer, after all, I know what you are talking about…” Still, I also wanted to make a point about the ‘real’ world that artists also have to deal with. But then again, he became more and more impatient, even reluctant, and said in an almost sighing voice. “Silke, I think, you do not know what I mean.”
This was when I lost my temper.
In a broken voice — partly angry, partly sad— I told him that I knew exactly what he was talking about because, after all, I was the one who had decided to quit my job two years ago to not spend any day without doing what I love: write. And that was when I realized, what a completely shitty and harmful thing language can be. Yes, both of us had used the word “writing” but obviously, we had meant two very different things. He thought, I was talking about writing in some business sense or whatever. Maybe that is how he personally thinks of writing, i.e., like some technique which you apply to put words on paper to convey meaning. Yes, that might be the description of the activity because this is what you see from the outside. But that is NOT what I meant by writing. What I mean by writing is the one and only thing in my life that gives me more meaning and purpose than anything else.
That sounds a bit dramatic but that is what it is — to me.
Again, we had obviously experienced another incident of the “curse of knowledge,” which is when you think that what you know is exactly what others know as well — which is usually a mistake. The problem is, since human beings mostly communicate via language, i.e., verbal signs, it makes it quite difficult to always check if every word means exactly the same thing to the other person. And even if that other person would define it by using the same terms, one cannot be sure if the same thing is meant. Well, now we are getting into linguistics here, even cognitive science and psychology. What I simply started realizing in the conversation is that maybe, he does not understand what an artist experiences when doing his/her art work. Maybe some people never have this foundational experience of flow, of losing any sense of time, of complete focus. And I am not saying this to judge him or anyone else. I am saying this because it might be another incident of the “curse of knowledge” that I think everybody knows what this is like. Maybe he and many others do not? Maybe some rational thinkers never get into stuff with their entire body and mind to step outside the “real world”?
In any case, my somewhat emotional outburst functioned as a catalyst for the conversation. He really understood what I meant by writing that very moment, I could hear it in his voice. And this was in fact the writing which he obviously considers ‘real’ writing, i.e., poetic and fictional writing. But it was not the writing that he thought I was doing. Well, that was wrong, obviously. Still, what I basically tried to explain to him, was: Writing out of this inner fountain of one’s “calling” (to use this tricky term) can be applied to different fields of activity. I do not only have to write for my own purposes. I can share this art, talent, and passion with others and even contribute something valuable. The writing itself is not even the skill that creates most value, it is the sensory learning, this way of seeing with your heart, that allows you to write in the first place.
There are so many examples of how to apply it. And by the way, many successful writers in the field of fiction do not write simply because they love it. It is their job, for Pete’s sake, they have to earn money! And yes, writing is considered a gift by many of them and many of them enjoy it. But mere talent does not get you anywhere without daily practice and hard work. The writer as this universal creature with inborn talent does not exist. There are successful best seller authors who have no emotional relationship to writing. I just heard an interview in the context of the Frankfurt book fair where one winner of a book award said:
“I do not write because I love it. There simply was no other job that I seemed to be fit for.”
So, all this made me choose the quote by Rainer Maria Rilke today. If you know the movie Sister Act with Whoopie Goldberg, she also mentions this line to one of her students. In that case, it is a girl who dreams of becoming a singer. For me, this is a very emotional thing because I walked this path. But it took people — like Whoopie in the movie — who encouraged me to follow my heart. They used different words than Rilke but basically meant the same thing. The reason why I have decided to write about all this today, however, is because this conversation with my friend made me ponder whether I am still on the right track…
“… you are a writer.” Well, you are whatever you tell yourself you are. We are the main characters of the life story we tell ourselves (Eakin, Living Autobiographically). The problem for me is, especially after this exchange today, I cannot really tell what “writer” means to me anymore. And to be honest, I do not think that question came out of the blue today. It has been there for a while now. Sure, it is fun to write stories with clients, to ghostwrite their life and company stories, to write short stories about entrepreneurs, to write comics as a means of science communication, to write reports, concepts, and abstracts— to even write this blog. All of these things are “easy” work for me because I feel zero struggle, it does not feel like work in the sense of “this is hard, I really need to pull together all my abilities to get it done.”
Maybe I am just lazy?
Well, if I am a “real” writer, should I even be writing all this other stuff for clients? I know it helps them if I do it (because they struggle with it) but should I continue selling my writing in the business context? This question becomes even more severe if you look at the value writing seems to have nowadays. If you look at Medium as an example — how valuable is writing if most posts by people start with “How to…”? And, please, do not get me wrong. I totally love Medium because I found many helpful and enjoyable posts on the platform. And I also love so-called “self-help books” because they usually keep their promise: they help! But to be honest: Is the blogging trend not just another race for likes and claps for many? Is it not a means of scaling their personal and/or business brand? You can get all kinds of statistics that tell you how to optimize your coverage— if you want that.
What if you just want to write?
Why even write in a world in which writing is just a means of marketing in one way or another and in which people do not even consider that writing can have a different purpose?
The purpose of no purpose, of writing self.
Yes, now I am starting to sound bitter. I know that writing does fulfil a helpful purpose if the readers learn from the texts. Yesterday, for example, another friend of mine told me how much blogs on academic writing and related topics help her. Sure, they do, but the problem is: That content is not unique. What is unique is the ability and maybe even the talent of the authors to collect and comprise information in a clear and possibly new way in order to ideally meet the needs of the audience. That creates value, not doubt. The problem is: It is not why I write. And since you are reading this right now, you know very well what I am talking about.
The only truly unique content people can produce comes from their original thinking. Consequently, you have to think before or while writing. You have to feel the problem that you are thinking about. And you have to master the skill of letting the words flow on paper while continuing to think in your head. I have no idea how this works but it does. Otherwise I would not be able to sit here every night to write a new blog post. Do you think I have some sort of concept for this? Do you think I prepare for hours before writing?
If that were the case, I would never start writing. It would be hell. I could just as well write academic papers then.
So, I guess, all this amounts to a more or less normative discussion of: “What is the value of writing in a society that does not read texts anymore that are longer than two pages or 5- to 7-min. reads”? Why write if these kinds of texts can easily be generated by computers in the near future (or probably today already)? This is such an old debate that every journalist on this planet has probably gone through it endlessly. Since I am not a journalist by profession (even though, this is what I wanted to be for a long time before starting x other jobs), I can only say that I have to write in order to live.
Writing for me is the only means that allows me to express myself with my whole being. And the stress is on expression here, not on being understood. That is a major difference. It is highly satisfying for me to have this option of expressing myself in a way that I feel, I can say it all. It is perfectly clear that the people reading the thoughts will understand different things or nothing at all. But that is fine. The opportunity of expression weighs more heavily than the wish to be understood. What we usually do in daily life is the opposite. We try to communicate with the goal of submitting information without focusing too much on our own urge to speak. Especially in times when people always run around with this ticking clock in their minds, talking too much — even telling stories — is boo, haram, not appreciated.
Well, all this sophisticated brainfuck does not solve my question of whether or not I am going to continue writing for clients. Maybe I should not. Maybe my friend was right in asking: “Why don’t you just focus on writing?” The answer is simple: Hardly anybody can live on writing and besides that, all these other things that I do are also part of me. I love thinking through complex problems and offering easy and pragmatic solutions to people to make their lives easier. It is deeply fulfilling. It is not how most consultants understand their work but I do. And I am convinced the value created by people like me is going to be highly demanded in the ensuing crisis. The creativity that drives this business work is the same creativity that allows me to write — at least, this is what I think. Still, maybe I should split the two things. Maybe the problem solving for businesses should not be mixed with the writing. The most obvious argument in support of this option is that the direct path is always the best one. And if I can help people with my ideas, I do not have to waste much time writing down these ideas if these people are not going to read these ideas anyway.
Or will they read?
If you are a writer, the only person you are really writing for is yourself.
If you want to encourage others to write, you need to share.
“Writing is only reading turned inside out.” — John Updike
1) What is it that you think of doing when you get up in the morning?
2) Even if you are not into philosophy or spirituality — did you ever feel you have a special talent or skill that you should pass on to others?
3) In the middle of the social media age — what value does writing have for you?