Why I Write

I lifted the title of this newsletter from the writer Joan Didion who stole it from George Orwell.

I am a writer, which is to say that it is impossible for me to “not write.” Writing is not something I do, but rather, it is something I am. When I am not writing, I wish I were somewhere with the laptop lid open and the keyboard exposed.

I write to understand my world better, to make sense of it, to discern how things work, why they work, and what is broken. The very nature of writing is to explore and capture what you know, what you understand, and to discover what you don’t know or understand. Writing every day for close to ten years has allowed me to wrestle with what I don’t know and understand. Writing is in large part how I have changed my views of so many things over the last decade.

I also write to understand myself. Without writing—or some other form of deep introspection—I very much doubt you know what you really believe or how you became infected with those beliefs without any awareness of it occurring. I am frequently surprised by what I learn about myself through writing, like my biases and preferences, my strong reaction to other ideas, and my truths.

In almost any genre, writing is the exploration of ideas. It’s a search for the truth, whether you read a biography, non-fiction, a novel, or a humble blog post scratched out in 500 words. Having just moved into a new home, one with no bookshelves, I discovered I have around 1,200 hardcover books, nothing close to Umberto Eco‘s 30,000 volumes, but a relatively large collection (with an equal number on my Kindle). In every volume, there are ideas someone took the time to explore and share. I am interested in ideas because I am interested in the truth.

The application I use to write is called Ulysses. It is a plain text editor, which is designed to capture words. The app offers no real tools for making pretty the presentation of words, and sentences, and paragraphs. To style the page, you must know some form of markdown language or use shortcuts I don’t care to learn. Other than the choice of font, there is nothing to get in the way of writing. The app is always open, always at the ready, a faithful companion whose blank page and blinking cursor are there to receive ideas as they appear out of the ether. I have made it a practice not to allow any idea to go unnoticed or escape being captured. Each thought may contain some small truth worth exploring. Or it may be nothing at all. It’s hard to tell without further exploration, conversation, experimentation, or primarily through writing.

Ulysses holds 3,000,000 words, the vast majority of which have been published as blog posts. The tiny fraction contained in my three books is a paltry 185,000.

My poor typing form has resulted in carpal tunnel syndrome that starts at the tip of the middle finger of my right hand and ends underneath my right shoulder. No part of the aching prevents me from typing. The thirteen-year-old, high school freshman version of me decide that the typing class he was taking wasn’t worth his time. I was asked to drop the class because I wouldn’t stop hunting and pecking, a request I accepted immediately. Who would want to type when there is rock-n-roll?

The act of writing is one of organizing words into sentences and sentences into paragraphs. It is also one of organizing your thinking and your arguments.

I write because I am a polemicist, a person who engages in a controversial debate. A good deal of what I write is an argument, even if there is no one there with which to argue, just an idea or ideal. Sometimes I am quarreling with myself. In all cases, I am proposing my side, arguing for my truth, and attempting to win you over to my side, my philosophy, my beliefs. The very act of publishing is a subversive act, an attempt to infect others with your beliefs, to convince them, to change them in some way. The act of reading is to open yourself up to being shown a new truth, a new belief, a new way of understanding, and a new way of being in this world.

I write because words are how we speak to the future. It’s one of the ways we leave a path for others or a place to stand to find an even greater truth. No matter what one says, those who write and publish do so as a way to achieve some form of immortality, to have some part of their consciousness live forever, to force their argument on the future. Most will not share this secret because it is a secret they hide from themselves.

If you have been here for any time, you know I write what I want to write. I write what has captured my attention, as I hope to seize yours. I write what I want to share with you to better learn it myself. I also write what I need to read, believing that someone else, maybe you, might benefit from reading something that provides you with healthier infection than you might have picked up somewhere else.

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