Not all my writing at length happens on this blog, often I will inflict a long email response on a correspondent, or comment at length on someone else’s blog post. Occasionally I will recycle the words into a blog post of my own, but not frequently.
I just did this to one of my friends, Amy Scott, and she said the email was post-worthy. So, without further comment …
Amy Scott wrote:
Here’s one [reason I’m not writing]: I’m still reading –reading, of course, being just as important, or maybe more so, than the output of writing.
I actually agree with this. As far as reading, thinking, and writing go, writing is a distant third on the list—as far as what you can contribute to the world. Some very few people have important enough things to say that the world can benefit from having them written down. More people have useful things to say, things that a scattered readership can adapt and turn into important stuff in their own lives–but still not all that many.
The rest of what is written simply washes over readers, usually for entertainment purposes—whether it’s possible for that kind of writing to have a lasting beneficial effect, I don’t know. My reading only helps me when I’m actively engaged with it.
So as far as benefiting other people, I think even the most writers should aspire at most to the second goal, since even that is very hard to achieve. Meanwhile, we tend to think we’ll work our way into the Books that Changed My Life category.
Reading and thinking are way more important (as long as they lead to doing!) because, sad news for most of us, what we do will have way more positive effect on the world than what we think. And for nearly all of us, our sphere of influence will be very small. I don’t think that’s a bad thing–I have vastly more influence over the thinking of my kids than any writer would ever have (or should have). And if I get my act together, my influence can extend to the small circle of people I know personally, and who think favorably of me. That’s about all I want, I don’t think my ideas by themselves are so important that they should influence anyone who doesn’t know me well enough to see them in practice.
Meanwhile, my urge to write is more an urge to impose some coherence on what I’ve read and learned and thought, to give me some confidence that what I think I know actually passes the test. And I find it helpful to do that work in public–the sifting, sorting, smoothing, polishing, sharpening, connecting, identifying gaps and perhaps filling them in, perhaps getting comfortable with their existence. Too often I fool myself into thinking I know something, only to see it crumble when I try to put together for public scrutiny. After a long quiet stretch, I have a lot of stuff backed up that now needs to be put to that test.