A year ago, I stumbled upon a video about How to read more books and not to from Alex J. O’Connor, known on Youtube as CosmicSkeptic.
In his video, Alex said that people assumed that he must love reading because of the impressive number of books sitting in the background of his videos. But in actuality, he doesn’t. He doesn’t like nor enjoy reading; he likes having read.
I feel the same way about writing. I don’t like writing, but I like having written.
Writing is powerful
Writing gives me clarity of thought. It allows me to be the smartest version of myself by expressing complex ideas far more accurately than I could have verbally.
While speech is more natural (well, writing is definitely not natural!), it is not adequate to convey long arguments.
Our short-term memory is … well, short!
We can’t hold more than a few thoughts in our mind at once (4 on average, it seems). Writing them down allows us to free some space in our short-term memory, making room for new thoughts while being able to read them back any time.
And more importantly, writing allows us to think and rethink (and rewrite) our ideas until we find the right wording.
But writing is painful
Writing is a painful process of hide-and-seek between ideas that you thought were already well-fledged (and which ended up, of course, not being so) and words that you wish would come more easily when you need them.
To quote one of the greatest writers in history:
I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket — Ernest Hemingway
Being confronted with that ‘shit’ is not a very pleasing sensation, especially when one is seriously trying to convey something of any degree of importance.
The impostor syndrome usually kicks in halfway through the writing of the piece, triggered by a fear of not doing justice to the topic and relentless worrying that it could have been better written.
I like having written
But when I’m done writing a piece, I usually feel happy and satisfied, not necessarily by the quality of what I’ve done, but rather by the fact that I pulled it off. I didn’t run away. And now, my thoughts are crystallized into words. I read back the piece and feel smarter than I was when I started writing it, and that feels good!
Another thing I like is a sense of surprise.
While I usually structure my writing process quite tightly,
I am often surprised by the final outcome.
During the grinding process of converting thoughts into words, I usually realize that many thoughts hadn’t reached the stage of maturity necessary for me to write them in clear and concise prose. That process develops my ideas much further, and I make many discoveries along the way, sometimes ending up in a different place entirely.
Such discoveries make the painful process of writing worthwhile to me.
So for those who wonder whether I write stuff because I like writing, well, I guess you got your answer! No, I don’t like writing. I really don’t.
But I love having written!