Last summer, I asked a group of middle schoolers why they liked to write. “Because it makes what’s inside real to other people,” one said. Bingo, I thought. She nailed it.
Although writing can sometimes be slow, hard, friend-repelling, social-anxiety-causing, arthritis-inducing work (have I driven you away yet?), it’s also an art form that probes the depths of human consciousness and makes your thoughts and emotions visible to the outside world. Writing is all about — big surprise — communicating, a skill with real-life benefits that include stronger community ties, increased self-awareness, and even boosted immunity. Plus, you feel like you kind of rule the world when you write a killer sentence. You know it.
Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned writer, this list will help you focus on the positive side of the writing life in 2015. Every time you feel the naysayers and the distraction-wielders creeping in (yourself included) and consider abandoning your New Year’s goals, these 12 reasons will remind you why writing isn’t just a hobby — for you, it’s a way of life.
Writing will help you form your identity
Don DeLillo called writing the ultimate identity formulator. He said, “Writing is a form of personal freedom. It frees us from the mass identity we see in the making all around us. In the end, writers will write not to be outlaw heroes of some underculture but mainly to save themselves, to survive as individuals.”
Writing is good for your health
In 2013, a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine showed clear and definitive evidence that expressive writing hastens the body’s healing process. According to Salon, this study proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the benefits of writing extend to the health of the physical body.
Writing gives you purpose
Anything Gloria Steinem says, you and I should listen to. And Gloria Steinem said this: “Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.” Are you picking up what I'm putting down?
Writing will give you clarity of mind
Feeling a little fuzzy? Pick up the pen. Joan Didion wrote to part her clouds: “I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. Why did the oil refineries around Carquinez Straits seem sinister to me in the summer of 1956? Why have the night lights in the bevatron burned in my mind for twenty years? What is going on in these pictures in my mind?”
Writing helps with memory retention
You probably know by now that taking notes in class multiplies your chances of passing. Creative writing uses the same techniques as note taking (organization, synthesis, and summarization) to a much greater degree, and captures memories and knowledge that might have otherwise slipped away — so start dreaming, and jot down what you're thinking about.
Writing helps with emotional healing
If you're feeling a little unsettled at the beginning of the year... well, you know what I'm going to say. WRITE, obviously. "Writing is deeper than therapy," says Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones. "You write through your pain, and even your suffering must be written out and let go of… [Writing] is an opportunity to take the emotions we have felt many times and give them light, color, and a story. We can transform anger into steaming red tulips and sorrow into an old alley full of squirrels in the half light of November."
Writing helps with stress reduction
In a 1987 study, Pennebaker, Hughes, & O’Heeron found that expressive writing reduces stress immediately, and the results can last for up to four months. Signs of stress reduction post-writing included lower muscle tension, blood pressure, and heart rates. I'm not saying we can all be less stressed, but... actually, wait. That's exactly what I'm saying.
Writing can further social justice
James Baldwin in Notes of a Native Son for the win: “[O]ne must never, in one’s own life, accept these injustices as commonplace but must fight them with all one’s strength.” And a pen is mightier than a sword, amirite?
Writing makes you feel less alone
Of course there's Twitter, and Facebook, and Goodreads, and writing groups — yes, tons of community spaces. But I'm talking about something more than that. Charles Yu is, too: “And now here I am, a little less alone, because I see her over there, and she sees me. I wrote myself out of the room and now I will write myself off of this lonely little island, write more clouds into the sky and pour words into the ocean, and maybe, if I'm lucky, write myself a bridge across that ocean, to that island over there, to meet another person, to tell her the idea I have been holding in my head." All that stuff swimming inside your brain finally has a home.
Writing teaches you empathy
Writing may start out as self-serving (kind of like an emotional eruption or first-time therapy session), but in order to achieve any level of greatness, a writer will have to detach from her personal interest and begin to look at the bigger picture. Vivian Gornick in The Situation and the Story knows what I'm talking about: “The unsurrogated narrator has the monumental task of transforming low-level self-interest into the kind of detached empathy required of a piece of writing that is to be of value to the disinterested reader.”
Writing teaches you to be more observant
In “Why I Write,” George Orwell identifies “four great motives for writing.” The second he calls “aesthetic enthusiasm” or “perception of beauty in the external world.” Basically, writing draws your attention to detail and beauty in the environment around you — that includes everything from the hushed conversations in the coffee shop where you write to the weird lip-pouting habits of your fellow humans. All that stuff you become hyperaware of? It's all great fodder for your novel.
Writing makes you wiser
When Ernest Hemingway says that writing makes you wiser, he has my attention — and he should have yours, too. In On Writing, he writes, “A great enough writer seems to be born with knowledge. But he really is not; he has only been born with the ability to learn in a quicker ratio to the passage of time than other men and without conscious application, and with an intelligence to accept or reject what is already presented as knowledge.” In English? Writers have to be well versed in a lot of different subjects for their characters and settings to seem believable. The research you do for your book stays with you for a lifetime, too, culminating in your ultimate status as Thoroughly Wizened.
Images: Fotolia; Giphy (12)