Sometimes, the gravity of real life threatens to pull me out of my creative orbit. The inescapable responsibility of being human weighs heavily – the “Real World” of work, relationships, and surviving on this fragile planet crushing in on me like pressure on an ascending deep sea diver. The closer I get to daylight, the further I am from the intimate, interior depths of my creative endeavors. That inner life disappears into the darkness below as I’m drawn toward the surface, my tenuous connection lost until I dive again.
Above the waves, my belief in the importance of the world below fades. Submerged in the process, my work felt real and worthwhile. But, now, back in the real world where there is a mortgage to pay, a hot water heater to be fixed, and the intricacy of a sixth grader’s social life to untangle, my conviction wavers. Is writing really that important? Am I crazy to spend as much time as I do stitching sentences together, one word at a time? What good am I actually doing? Does any of this really matter?
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The Real World is a big, noisy, chaotic place. It is full of life and adventure and the joy of discovery, but it is also full of responsibilities, demands, and a constant push to go faster and farther – to do more and be more. Most days, we are so busy that we don’t even have time to think about what we’re doing. Sometimes, that feels like a blessing. We keep moving to survive. Don’t question; just do. We’re like Lucy in the candy factory episode – a human cog in the machine, desperately trying to stay ahead of the conveyer belt as it spits out an unending stream of chocolate-covered tasks and obligations: get to work, feed the cat, take mom to the doctor, attend the PTA meeting, pay the bills, schedule the oil change, file the report, make the deadline, cook dinner, hit the gym, soothe the sick kid, apologize, mediate, walk the dog, balance the checkbook, and so on.
I’m not saying that there isn’t value (of course there is) and even joy (all the time!) in our day-to-day tasks and activities. Being active and productive, even in the most mundane of ways, can be very rewarding and is a necessary part of being a functioning member of human society. BUT, I have to believe that there’s more to life than just being a “functioning member of human society.”
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Why is writing important? Writing is important because it plucks us off this hamster wheel we call life. It lifts us up, our legs kicking in the air at nothing, and makes us slow down so we can breathe and think clearly. It’s like a forced mental health break. Interestingly, reading offers a similar respite and safe haven, so whether you are creating a story or consuming one, you are giving yourself a chance to pull back the curtain and experience the “something more” we’re all searching for.
Writing Makes You Slow Down
In the world of incessant multi-tasking, time and attention are our most valuable assets. One of the things that makes “escaping into a good book” so appealing is the way reading – when it’s done right – slams the brakes on everything else in our lives. Reading forces your monkey mind to sit in the corner. Silently. Sinking into a good story is like slipping through a secret door into another dimension where the chaos of life is tamed by neat and orderly rows of words and the simple act of turning pages. Sure, you might lose hours in this other world, but those hours are spent blissfully engrossed in a single task, and that’s good for you.
Writing is important because it demands focus. It requires that we temporarily shut out the Real World in order to build the world of our story. It makes us set all our other concerns aside and give ourselves wholly to the task at hand. When you are writing, it’s like downshifting to a lower gear that gives you better traction with your brain – no more skidding back and forth between rogue thoughts or going into tailspins that take you nowhere.
Writing creates a state of dynamic stillness in which you are centered and grounded, but active. It’s like the eye of the storm – a pocket of calm surrounded by wild winds. When you sit down with pen or keyboard, you give yourself the power to step out of the maelstrom and into a bubble of protected space where you can slow time down through the simple but magical act of putting down one word after another.
Writing Gives You Time Alone
“Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.” ~ Picasso
Though you may write in a busy cafe or even in the company of other writers, once you are fully engaged with the words, you are alone. Solitude is the sacred realm of both reader and writer. When you are reading or writing, you are free from the weight and influence of any other presence. You exist on your own, between worlds.
Writing is important because it enables you to temporarily extract yourself from your other lives. When you are writing, you are not the employee, the spouse, the parent, or the child. You are not the volunteer, the friend, the neighbor, or the caretaker. You are neither villain nor hero, neither victim nor savior. You are the writer. You are the story.
And in your solitude, you get to know yourself better and learn to enjoy your own company. Being comfortably alone is a dying art. In a world where technology keeps you constantly plugged in, connected, and on display, it’s hard to cultivate a sense of ease and wellbeing on your own. But this is a critical skill. If you don’t spend time alone, you might forget who you truly are. You might be fooled into believing that you are only what appears on the outside. You might become a mirror that only reflects back what other people expect to see.
Time alone reading or writing allows us to unplug from the rest of the world so we can reconnect with our true selves. It lets us relax into being who we really are – no facades or personas necessary. It lets us come home.
Writing Is Where You Think – Really Think
Writing slows the world down and invites us to come home to ourselves. Here, in the quiet solitude, we can finally hear our own thoughts – not the shallow, surface-dwelling ones that flash in the sun for all to see, but the more elusive and complex thoughts that illuminate our inner depths with a light all their own. Whether we’re reading or writing, story is the tool that lets us explore our thoughts. Story asks the hard questions. It provokes us. By inviting us to step outside ourselves, it opens up a door into who we really are. Story challenges our assumptions and beliefs. It plays with our senses, drawing us into alternate realities and then posing the question, “What would you do?”
Putting words down is taxing work that is not to be undertaken lightly. Writing makes us think hard about who we are, our place in the world, and what we care about most. At the least, writing requires us to bear witness. At most, it requires that we render a verdict. It demands that we refine our ideas – a painful process of exposure and selection. We have to choose what to say and what not to say. We draw a line in the sand with our words, and sometimes we dare the world to cross it.
Writing is important because it makes us do this work. It refuses to let us sleepwalk through our lives, muttering incoherently under our breath.
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We may read and write in a space that is separate from the Real World, but the stories we consume and tell are the heart of the human experience. Reading and writing are how we process the world, how we explore, discover, define, and share what it is to be human. Stories give us the means to share our perspectives and ideas, our thoughts and dreams. They challenge us to think more thoroughly and deeply about our existence, beliefs, and purpose.
Writing is important. It isn’t more or less important than what we do in the “real” world. Living our lives and writing our lives are not mutually exclusive practices. In fact, for the writer, they are inextricably linked. So, when Real Life pulls me away from my writing and makes me question my path and purpose (not to mention my sanity), I try to remember that – for the writer – living is writing and writing is living. We live in the Real World just like everyone else, but we also dive beneath the surface to plumb the depths for the insights that help us better understand the world above the waves.
Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebook, twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.