Why we should write it down

by Kristin on October 20, 2011

in Belief, doubt & hope

Photo by redcargurl

A person’s life can look simple, at a glance. To the casual observer, I’m a mom, a wife, middle class, educated. I am happy, my life is relatively easy. And all of those things are true.

But that is not my story, and unless you are my mom, my husband or a good friend, you can’t begin to know the close calls, the plot twists, the devastation and redemptive turns that have propelled my tale to its current point.

Unless, of course, I write it all down.

That is my short answer to the question Why do I write? I decided today, the National Day of Writing, is a good time to share with you the “medium” version, here on my blog. (This day is primarily geared toward English teachers and students, but I love thinking that those of us who write daily can help inspire a fresh take on the value and importance of writing in schools.)

Here are a few of the thoughts that came to mind today as I pondered why I write. It isn’t a new question, of course, but it’s one worthy of an answer, in this moment and the next, from anyone who regularly takes the time to sit down and wrestle with words to tell a story. I hope you’ll share which answers resonate with you, or what you would add to this list.

- I write because the only way to understand where I am now is to understand where I was. And the only way to understand where I was, and how it all weaves together, is to think it through and write it down, revising and turning the story upside-down along the way, looking at it from different angles to more fully see it. (Maybe your brain can keep track of complex ideas better than mine can, but I need paper or a screen to sort through the craziness that is my story.)

- I write because it’s the difficult, complicated details that matter, not the obvious, simple ones. The simple details tell you I am a wife and mother, and a Christian; the complicated story tells you my husband is my second husband, that I struggled through years of being a single mom, and that I once left a church and thought I might also be leaving God. Those details don’t translate well at a cocktail party. I can’t just tell you them casually, over a cup of tea. They take time and care. They deserve to be put down in words.

- I write because I believe there’s no such thing as a “redemption moment,” only a redemption story. In other words, redemption can’t be told about through the telling of a moment. Redemption takes time—it involves a history, plot development, and characters with depth. It can only be redemptive through the sort of complexity that borders on disbelief and wonder, a narrative tension that builds and then is relieved in expressions of God’s great wisdom and love.

- I write because my story is part of a bigger story. First, my story is linked to yours. By telling one another our stories we’re able to learn together, heal, and grow into something more, knowing all along that we’re not alone (an intentional reference to a recently-published book of stories about depression, called Not Alone).

And more importantly, our stories are part of the larger-than-life narrative that is God’s story. I couldn’t begin to understand God, or the Bible, until I grasped an understanding of this larger story. The Bible is not just a whole bunch of individual stories that were collected together into one book out of convenience. We are more than simply millions of individuals living out our individual stories here on earth. Just by being a part of God’s creation, our stories are a part of his great cannon. I believe we are responsible for sharing our stories, not just living them. That is why I write.

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  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com ed cyzewski

    Great reasons Kristin. Writing is such a healing process. I think that’s part of why we need to create–it somehow helps to heal the parts of us that are broken. I know I’ve reached such a greater understanding of my life through writing.

    Remember that slump you hit a few months ago? This post is why I’m glad you pressed on!

  • http://www.ordinarymer.com Meredith

    I love your reasons for writing, especially the first one. I often say that my brain moves faster than I can keep up with and writing is the only way I know of to get everything out of my head so I can put it all back in, but this time in an ordered and more logical way. Things like ideas or beliefs or emotions can be so wide and all-encompassing that it’s almost impossible to grasp them without some way of making sense of it all. Like you, I turn to a screen or a piece of paper.

    And, perhaps more superficially, I write because I can be very forgetful. Lists, esp. ink-and-paper lists that let me have the satisfaction of crossing something off of it, are my lifesaver.

  • http://frizzytalksinhersleep.blogspot.com Roxanne

    I write because it is not there … I write because I have to …. writing is like breathing for me …

  • http://www.jenwritesstuff.com Jen

    Perhaps what resonates with me most lately is the last reason you give: because my story is part of a bigger story… and God’s story. There’s a reason our hearts respond to stories, why we love to hear them and tell them, and I believe it’s because we are all in one great narrative with all our individual parts to play.

    Or, as a favorite line from Marilynne Robinson’s book Gilead puts it: “In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets.”

    For me, I would add that I write because it’s the closest I can come to creating something out of nothing. Of course, it’s not from nothing… I use letters, words, and sentences, and there really are no 100% original ideas left. But the instinct to create is truly part of being made in a Creator’s image. It seems wrong not to respond!

    Great post. I really do need to catch up reading here (busy life threw me behind on my blog reading!), but I am so glad you’re back. =)

  • Dave

    Writing is, as you say, an act of preservation. In days gone by stories were preserved, shared, and savored in long discussions on porches and at dinner tables. In today’s fast paced world stories are often ignored. Writing them down saves them for times when you can sit down with them as old friends, for that moment when someone slows down enough to appreciate them, or for that grace driven hour when someone finds them just when they need them.

    Stories should be preserved in writing, video, painting, whatever medium moves us. I often wonder what will survive the filter of time?

    Keep writing!

  • http://www.stephindialogue.com Stephanie S. Smith

    “Redemption takes time”–I like that you diverged from the typical train of thought that we have moments of breakthrough and illumination. We do, but it’s ongoing. Sometimes, we don’t even know any redemption has taken place until years later, looking back. Writing helps me process this out and see where God has worked and is working. I also write to find out what I think, because I really have no idea before I begin. I used to think this was backwards, or immature as a writer, but now I see it’s working my own intuition out on paper and it’s more organic this way. I write to discover.

  • Pingback: Why I Write : Ordinary Mer

  • http://www.alise-write.com Alise

    “I write because it’s the difficult, complicated details that matter, not the obvious, simple ones.”

    Yup, there it is. This is a big reason why I write. Because it’s often easier for me to process some of those complicated thoughts out in print than in actual words. Not that it always comes across,but I can keep building on ideas when they’re solidly down for people to read.

    Additionally, I write because I have a tendency to be pretty flippant when I’m just talking and less so when I write. I know that ALL words are forever, but it’s easier for me to remember that when I write them down. When I write, I generally take more care with my thoughts than I do if I’m just talking. It forces me to slow down and think. And as a loud-mouth, that is definitely a good thing!

  • http://jenniferluitwieler.com Jennifer

    I shall spare you the lengthy reply. My favorite part is the idea that there is no redemption MOMENT. I am reminded of Paul. He sure had a singular moment, which then translated to a life of single-minded purpose. Or, in your language, a redemption story. It was all his way of turning from one thing into another. And that story, along with the other apostles, and the Jewish forefathers, and the life of Jesus, and my life and yours transcend time and space. It is all one big story. Well done. Keep writing.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    ed, yes—the healing! I’ve long thought of writing as cheaper and more portable than therapy. :) Thanks for all your encouragement and for being a part of this therapeutic community.

    Meredith, I love this: “…writing is the only way I know of to get everything out of my head so I can put it all back in, but this time in an ordered and more logical way.” Sometimes writing feels like cleaning out a junk drawer. You just have to start by dumping everything out, so you can better see what you’re dealing with and how to organize it.

    Roxanne, I can definitely relate to that *need* to write. Sometimes I get too busy with other things to do the kind of deep-soul writing I need, and at other times I even avoid it, like it’s too much effort. Either way, when I do make the time to write like that it feels like I’m finally taking true, deep breaths of air again.

    Jen, you bring up two really great points—that we are created to respond to stories, and we are wired with the instinct to create. It’s tough to think of two things more fundamental to what it means to be human, through the ages! Of course, there are many ways to participate in stories, and creation can take many forms, but for those of us who feel compelled to write, the response seems clear!

    Dave, you’re right, stories aren’t told on porches and in community settings quite like they once were. We’re losing that art, which is very upsetting to me (sitting on my porch or around the table with friends and family is perhaps my favorite thing in life!). But writing also bring something new to the “table”—it allows us to really widen our circles and our discussions, and share perspectives with people who would never otherwise be in the vicinity of our porches. That’s exciting! (Thanks for jumping into the conversation here!)

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    Stephanie, you’re absolutely right—we do have those moments of breakthrough. It’s funny, when the idea that there aren’t “redemption moments” came into my head, I started to second guess it and debate myself (fun times!). But then I realized we have moments of clarity, insight and “epiphany,” but the redemption process is just that—a whole process, involving “bad” and good. Also, I can definitely relate to this: “I also write to find out what I think, because I really have no idea before I begin.” Sometimes I might know *what* I think, but I can’t figure out *why* until I write through it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Alise, yeah, this: “I can keep building on ideas.” Writing really allows for digging deep and getting messy and complex, doesn’t it? And the “slow down and think” part is important for me, too. I have a verbal tendency to let loose. Sometimes that translates to my writing, but when it does I know it’s more measured and defendable than it is when I just open my mouth in the moment.

    Jennifer, I love that you bring up Paul (even though I have a rocky relationship with him). Yes, there was this moment for Paul, but the real power of all of that—the thing that made people sit up and take notice—wasn’t the moment so much as what was going on the years *before* the moment, and how miraculous and amazing the moment was in the context of that history. In other words, without the story, the moment sort of falls flat. (You keep writing too, friend.)

  • http://katieleigh.wordpress.com Katie @ cakes, tea and dreams

    This is so lovely and true – and I’ve spent a while trying to think of my own response. But in the end, I can simply say: Amen. These are the reasons I write, too.