I have a friend who likes to say “I can’t wait to hear what I have to say today”. What he means is that he learns things about himself when he speaks. He speaks to express himself.
That is why I write. I learn about myself, and about the world, when I write. I sit at the keyboard sometimes, and let the words come out. Sometimes I read what I’ve written and I think “I didn’t know that….”
I have friends who are musicians and artists. Sometimes I watch them play. One of them takes a weekend every year, and goes to the Philadelphia Folk Festival. He stays up all night every night, and he plays music with his friends. He immerses himself in the music, and time disappears.
He stays up all night playing music in order to express himself. He creates meaning with music, the way I try to create meaning with words.
Another reason that I write is to digest thoughts. That is a concept I borrowed from a book, by the way.
In the 1961 book “Stranger in a Strange Land”, Robert Heinlein coined the term “grok”. I remember reading the book as part of a reading assignment, and trying to understand what “grok” meant. It meant “digesting” a thought- more than just observing something. It implied a deeper understanding of things. I think what Robert Heinlein was trying to describe was a process of “digesting” an experience, and being changed by it.
That is why I write. Sometimes I see something, and I know that it is important when I see it- but I don’t immediately understand the importance of it. It takes me some time to digest it, and create meaning out of it. Writing is a way for me to create meaning, and express meaning. Sometimes I see something, and I make a note that I should write about it later on. I don’t paint, and I don’t play music (yet), but I do write. And writing is a way for me to make sense out of what I see in the world.
Abraham Maslow was a psychologist who proposed a “hierarchy of needs”. He suggested that we have some basic needs that must be met (physiological, safety and security, belonging, etc.) Once those most basic needs are met, we are free to focus on “higher needs”. The higher needs are things like meaning and purpose, and creativity.
Some people have to focus all of their energy on the most basic needs, like safety, security and food. I know I am blessed to be able to spend some of my energy on higher needs.
I have shared with some of you that I am writing a book, one essay at a time. I am writing it for several reasons.
None of those reasons are about money. People don’t make much money writing books anymore. There is the occasional runaway best-seller. But most books don’t make any money at all. With the advent of electronic books, authors are now paid pennies per book.
I am writing for fun, and for free. Someday I will take this to a printer, and make a few copies for friends and family. But unless Oprah comes along and wants to sell my book, I have better things to do with my time than bother trying to make money with this.