“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” — Ernest Hemingway
Writing is deeply personal. Through it, we easily gauge the writer’s intelligence, emotional stability, rhetorical skill, insecurities and – in a word – their past. Writing is a window into the mind of the writer. More unsettling is that through it the writer exposes theirself to theirself. Talk may be cheap, but words are the heaviest spiritual tax. The writer feels their intellectual shortcomings, faces their self-doubt, and enters into solitude with their many internally contradictory voices. This is the source of writer’s block, the paralyzing moment when reality announces to the writer their shallow limits.
Writing removes the obscurities of our digital age. As a kid, I went to guitar lessons almost every Tuesday evening for eleven years. I never learned to read music, and my practice book, which was a collection of hand-written crypto-tablature, was inadvertently destroyed. I still remember enough music to make it seem like I can play the guitar. I suspect, similarly, that many of us can conjure up enough intellect to string together 140 characters of vague faux insight and pseudo-profundity. Real writing does not afford the luxury of pithiness as sophistication.
Our individual expertise is so limited, yet good writing requires breadth of knowledge. The pre-socratic philosophers speculated about everything under the sun. Their concerns were in natural and metaphysical phenomena. Generally, these men weren’t moralizing and state-crafting. What a time to have been a thinker and write volumes free from the distractions of modern political and moral questions. Plato hadn’t yet meditated on what consisted of the good life, lucky for them. I digress.
I don’t write because everything in the previous paragraph is probably ahistorical and unjustifiably nostalgic. That is to say, I don’t actually have a firm footing in history. The amount of effort required to approach that point would be hippopotamic. They say to write about what you know. What does anybody know? I don’t mean this in an epistemologically skeptical sense. Rather, what does anybody know that is worth writing about? I don’t want to contribute to the noise. Why write publicly unless your ideas improve upon existing ideas?
I don’t write because I’m unsure of myself. I didn’t read an entire book until I was seventeen. Who can write who hasn’t read? There’s a great deal of shame I have in that. I’ve since amassed hundreds of books, but I’m still catching up. Having read a great deal over the past years, my question now is who, having read, endeavors to write? Anybody who has read anything of greatness must necessarily approach writing with trepidation. To enter into it without a certain level of humility is the peak of hubris. Don’t you realize that libraries are filled with words of artistic prowess far beyond our own ability?
Writing immediately becomes that which has been written. It’s menacingly static. At some point, it is published, and it archives our ineptitudes, our false conjectures, our arrogant attempts to add to human discourse. It’s hard for me to accept the finality of publication. Immediately afterwards, I await a bolt of lightening from Strunk and White.
Have mercy on me! I’m not worthy of writing, but I need it. Writing is the only mode of public expression for many of us. Art in its concrete form is beyond almost everybody. Writing is no closer within reach, yet we all do it. Writing is my feeble attempt to translate into words my spiritual essence, my memories and experiences, my knowledge (if I have any), my feelings, and my ideas. But is language capable of capturing any of this? It’s a tool, but it’s imprecise. Language makes me feel impotent. Hell is the inarticulable.
I don’t write because I have very little to say about anything of importance. Both my vocation and avocation happen to be politics. Then write about politics, you may recommend. The problem with this is that every asshole on the street has some banal, pseudo-profound, and wholly misinformed bullshit to say about politics. As partly evidenced by this fact, politics is the easiest and shallowest field of philosophy. Why is it that nobody has anything to say about metaphysics or epistemology or ethics or aesthetics? Why don’t y’all have profitless, winding debates about these issues? I don’t write about politics, because it’s too easy to slip into pontification. I don’t want to be another bloviating fool.
It’s bizarre that so many words are wasted on politics when it’s what we can individually affect the least. It is rational to be ignorant of political issues. However, our commitments in matters of aesthetics, moral systems, means of knowledge, and interpretation of reality are a direct function of our input. Well, maybe! But you get the point. I can choose whether or not I want to be a nihilist, relativist, subjectivist, universalist, and on and on. You can seek knowledge through reason or faith or emotion or you can assume solipsism. Aesthetic preferences are limitless. We have so much agency in our life, yet we exert effort deluding ourselves into thinking that our words influence politics. I’ve thoroughly embarrassed myself doing just that. And yet, I’ll write about politics again in the future, but only because it’s easy.
I don’t write because it is impossible for anyone to objectively interpret the writer’s meaning. No matter how cogent, everybody comes to the writer with their own experiences that color the words in a way unintended by the writer. If “the dog is red”, then is he Clifford or is he Stalin’s dog? People may assume malice or hear in my tone dejection. Maybe they’ll discern my bitterness and quasi-misanthropy. Worse yet, they’ll accuse me of bland style and vapidity! An old fling once accused me of over-using the thesaurus. Ouch. And don’t get me started on my frustration with willful ignorance of context and connotation.
I don’t write because what I actually mean is that I am hesitant to write. And yet some clever fellow will come along to remind me that I have in fact written. You got me! Is this what Oscar Wilde meant in suggesting there are too many clever people?
I don’t write because syntax and grammar are too confining. Pedants ruin it for us. Grammar and syntax are meant to enhance language and meaning. If I want to use a semicolon or a dash or a comma or ellipses, then go with it. Try to understand why the writer uses it. It’s a device.
I once had an English teacher who claimed that rhetoric is defined as “language used to persuade or influence”, and then he claimed that all language is rhetoric. The logical absurdity of such a tautology aside, I fear he may have been right. And the fact is that I don’t want to persuade you of anything. I don’t want to change anybody’s mind when I don’t even trust my own. At that point, writing becomes merely descriptive, and that doesn’t sell.
The writer is either one of the bravest or stupidest among us. To do it well, writing requires the courage to sit with one’s thoughts, to question oneself, to face one’s intellectual limits. Poor writing is pompous, baseless self-assurance. And while I do write, contrary to my title, this is why I don’t like to.