Why You Should Be Writing

I need to take a break from my three-act story structure series for at least a week. Why? To persuade you to start writing.

There are many good reasons, but the one I want to focus on today is that writing will improve your thinking.

Three quotes from legendary writers:

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
Flannery O’Connor

“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.”
Joan Didion

“Think before you speak. Read before you think.”
Fran Lebowitz

To me, it’s clear from these quotes that mere thoughts are lacking; they are insufficient for critical thinking. They are unpredictable, disjointed, and often incomprehensible, and frequently false. It’s like having thirty food items in your shopping cart at Walmart and concluding all point to one and only one recipe, or that the order you pulled each item off the shelf is mandating you shouldn’t get the Covid vaccine. Huh?

Imperfect as my examples are, surely writing and ordering one’s thoughts on paper is better than spouting broad generalizations (AKA, meaningless statements), or gross untruths.

If you’re unconvinced writing will improve your thinking, take a few moments, even a few days, to listen to what those around you are saying. Start with those physically in your presence, say those around the water-cooler or conference table at work. Then, consider those you’re listening to on the radio, the TV, or via a podcast. Finally, consider the statements you hear while watching (and listening to) videos, whether YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter.

Of course, you also need to contemplate written statements. It doesn’t take long to find a Boob. Again, look at Facebook or Twitter.

Once you’ve conducted this experiment, I assume you will agree there is much need for improved thinking. You are interested in the truth, aren’t you?

If you are, then ask yourself: “why do you want me to write fiction, more particularly, a novel?” Good question. Not to be rhetorical, but one answer is to help you improve your thinking and view of the world. Just because you make up your entire story doesn’t mean it isn’t true. It’s true in the world you create. Rabbit trail: conduct a little research on the correlation between empathy and reading fiction. Start with the following introductory quotes.

Reading fiction is important. It is a vital means of imagining a life other than our own, which in turn makes us more empathetic beings. Following complex story lines stretches our brains beyond the 140 characters of sound-bite thinking, and staying within the world of a novel gives us the ability to be quiet and alone, two skills that are disappearing faster than the polar icecaps.

Ann Patchett

You should never read just for “enjoyment.” Read to make yourself smarter! Less judgmental. More apt to understand your friends’ insane behavior, or better yet, your own. Pick “hard books.” Ones you have to concentrate on while reading. And for god’s sake, don’t let me ever hear you say, “I can’t read fiction. I only have time for the truth.” Fiction is the truth, fool! Ever hear of “literature”? That means fiction, too, stupid.

John Waters

Let’s dig a little deeper. I’d say without words/language we cannot learn anything. Of course, there are those who would disagree, saying that revelation is a way of knowing. Even if it is (which I do not believe) words are not absent.

A religious person might say, “I know God answered my prayer. See, here’s my car key I lost.” Ask yourself, were words used in the prayer? Probably? Even if not, was God’s response not in words? Let’s say He responded with a simple impression, a subliminal message of sorts, “they are in the kitchen garbage can.” Regardless, the person (the one praying) ‘understood’ where to look, and it wasn’t at the bottom of the swimming pool. Sorry, I digressed. For arguments sake, let’s agree, words are important.

Obviously, they are important to the writer. Let’s say that in the not-so-distant past you made the following spur of the moment verbal statement: “I’d kill that son-of-a-bitch if I could get away with it.” The three friends who heard you laughed, and either ordered another drink or engaged in conversation over which college the up-and-coming football star Arch Manning will choose.

However, later that night, as you were driving home, that spur of the moment declaration reappeared in your thoughts. Unlike what your three friends concluded, you were telling the truth. “If I could get away with it, I’d kill that son-of-a-bitch.”

But why? Most likely, that guy wronged you, or you have concluded that he did. His action might have been a perceived wrong, albeit slight in the grand scheme of things, but to you it was MAJOR. Further, the guy may not have a clue how you feel.

It’s revenge you’re after. And, you have the words and language to express it. You know what a wrong is (at least you have your definition in those scrambled thoughts in your head). You know what revenge is. Finally, you know what you mean by “get away with it.” As to the later, you likely mean, “not getting arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to prison.”

Before you shop at Walmart for a pistol, a tarp, fifty feet of rope, and a pick and shovel, why not start writing? Even better, why not start writing a novel about James Anderson (a made-up name) who’s itching to kill Paul Daniel (a made-up name). It seems Paul dishonored James’ sister back in high school half a century ago. James has hated him ever since. Plus, a few weeks ago local citizens elected Paul to the City’s zoning board, which is critical to James’ financial success.

You get the idea. Before you do something risky (murder the guy who spawned the fictional James Anderson), why not explore it in a safer environment? Why not follow a world-famous writer’s personal admonition: “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.” Joan Didion.

It could be you learn something, something that changes your mind. You might learn, because the fictional James learned, there’s more to “getting away with it” than staying off the police’s radar. Think about it. You murder someone. Do you think you will ever be free, mentally free, from the haunting? When you wake each morning, won’t you ask yourself, “will today be the day, they (the police) discover the evidence and clues I left behind?” Surely you believe you will make a few mistakes while you plan or execute your crime.

Back to your novel. Don’t forget that as writers it’s nearly impossible to exclude ourselves fully from our characters. Many experts say there is some part of an author in every character he creates. This could be unintentional, but it doesn’t have to be.

Of course, you don’t have to write an entire novel to learn something or improve your thinking. Here’s another experiment. Start keeping a journal. At the end of each day, recall and record a few of the statements you made during your waking hours. Choose one and analyze it in writing. Maybe you conclude your statement was true but you want to explore your reasoning. What makes that statement true? “Sue is as bad as Carl.” True? Here’s another example (I’m not saying it’s true!): “the Covid vaccine is just another way for the government to control the people.”

The goal is to start writing. If you do, at a minimum, you might discover what you are thinking. In the process, you might also learn that your thinking is flawed. And that’s always good to know.

In conclusion, and at the risk of diluting my main subject (actually, it doesn’t) I recommend you read the following article, “The Surprising Power of Reading Fiction: 9 Ways it Make Us Happier and More Creative.” You can find it here:

https://buffer.com/resources/reading-fiction/

In sum, this article argues that your life will improve if you become an active fiction reader. One thing the article doesn’t address is the importance of reading for a writer. The infamous Stephen King said it best, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

Think about it. Every fiction book you’ve read or will ever read has an author. And that guy or gal had a day they wrote for the first time. You depend on others for everything you read (other than your own writing!). Why not become the one who gives someone else the benefit of your creativity, the stories only you can write?

I promise you one thing, if you will start reading and writing fiction, your life will improve. Here’s two ways: you will hone your critical thinking skills, and you will become more empathetic.

Not only does reading and writing fiction benefit you, it benefits the world.

Photo by Dziana Hasanbekava on Pexels.com

Author: Richard L. Fricks

Former CPA, attorney, and lifelong wanderer. I'm now a full-time skeptic and part-time novelist. The rest of my time I spend biking, gardening, photographing, reading, writing, and encouraging others to adopt The Pencil Driven Life.

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