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Reflections on Why We Need to Write

SheSellsSeashells myself and 1960s journalist Joan Didion.

Tonight, I began thinking about why some people have a natural impulse to write. There are those of us who constantly feel compelled write about their daily happenings - the people they encounter, the feelings they experience, the sometimes-intellectual, sometimes-pointless thoughts they have.

My thoughts led me to re-read a piece by one of my favorite authors. In the essay "On Keeping A Notebook," which can be read in Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion ponders the same subject that I found myself wondering about tonight.

"The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself."

If you're like me, you keep a notebook and pen in your purse. If you're like me, you write whenever you feel compelled to; you may be in the middle of a crowded bar, or you may be driving down the interstate... It really doesn't matter; when you need to write, you need to write.

We write, not because our writings are about anything important or even borderline significant, but because we feel the need to capture our every day moments. We write about strangers we pass on the street. We write about conversations we overhear. We write about unexpected feelings that we can't even begin to understand ourselves. As Didion reflects, "See enough and write it down, I tell myself, and then some morning when the world seems drained of wonder, some day when I am only going through the motions of doing what I am supposed to do, which is write - on that bankrupt morning I will simply open my notebook and there it will all be, a forgotten account with accumulated interest, paid passage back to the world out there...."

I believe that those of us who share this compulsion are all typically 0ver-thinkers, over-analyzers, pessimists. "Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss."

It seems that we are blessed with a curse. Despite its disadvantages, the compulsion to write, I believe, is better than being numb to the world around us.
I've always felt that way, too. I'd rather write about something painful and feel even worse for a while than "just get over it" and forget about it. We'll never learn and become wise if we just avoid every unpleasant feeling there is, and writing is a way to confront those things and make them part of us.
Thanks for sharing these thoughts. They rang particularly true for me.

It's an impulse I've either denied or discounted for a long time, so it's nice to see it justified.
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