Is Writing the Right Thing to Do? Why we write and what it means.

‘A writer of story books? What kind of a business in life, – what mode of glorifying God, or being serviceable to mankind in his day and generation, – may that be?’

In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne uses these words to describe the attitudes of men towards writers. With regards to fiction, some scientifically-minded people may argue that story-telling is redundant, that it teaches nothing and is a waste of time. But those who enjoy reading and writing will disagree and have hundreds of reasons to spend hours at their laptops typing away.

So Why Do We Write?

Is it because we have an uncontrollable desire to express ourselves? To let others know exactly what’s going on in our minds? If so, are we all what we write? Is Bret Easton Ellis actually as psychopathic as Patrick Bateman?

At the other end of the spectrum, Roland Barthes coined the term ‘The Death of the Author,’ implying that writing and creator are unrelated. He suggests that ”text is a tissue [or fabric] of quotations,” freely layering symbolism, images and interpretations. Barthes argues that to impose the author’s opinion on the text is to limit its many possible meanings. But I believe that nothing can exist within a vacuum, there must always be some sort of influence on a creative piece.

Mental Health: A Creative Outlet

So maybe we write because we want to record what’s happening in our lives, with some exaggerations here and there of course. At depressionisnotdestiny.com, writer Danny Baker is campaigning to get his novel, ‘I Will not Kill Myself, Olivia,’ published.

In a world where so many people think only about themselves, and depression is still an illness unrecognised and misunderstood in many situations, this is another great reason to record your personal experiences. Sufferers of depression will also understand how useful the arts can be in finding an outlet to aid recovery. (See Nobody Knows for more.)

I’ll give you my Pen, you give me your Life

Others may write simply to escape their own mundane lives – Richard in The Beach never pays a bill, never mentions cashing a cheque or sorting his taxes. Is writing, then, our ‘Beach’? A convenient yet temporary escape from reality? But then we’re forgetting the end of the story – it’s not a happy outcome. I think we write because we’re driven to, because we have a burning need to record the images, characters and plot lines we see in our minds. The faces and phrases we have scorched on the backs of our eyelids need to find their places on a page somewhere –  a notebook, a postcard or the back of a napkin – whatever we can get our hands on. (Our hand are also supplements for paper more often that you’d think.) We are writers because we have no choice.

To argue that literature does not service mankind is untrue. Literature educates the ignorant, provides excitement for the bored and escape for the trapped. Admittedly, writing is a self-indulgent activity, but somehow, that doesn’t bother me too much.

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