Friday, November 20, 2020

Is the Hard Work of "Writing" Still Worthwhile?

If you're a writer, you probably wonder sometimes why you bother doing it. Are you making any difference? How do you know whether you are succeeding at this all-too-often ponderous task?

Every writer feels frustrated at certain times. Writers who invest themselves within the subject matter of their writing are particularly vulnerable to disappointment. Most of what is regarded as literature (as opposed to instructional manuals, technical writing, or purely factual conveyance of information) involves to some extent this kind of "self-communication."

How does one "succeed" in this kind of writing? 

That's a difficult question, which we can only approach in a limited way in this space. It's a question, nevertheless, that often occurs to writers. Perhaps you are a discouraged writer. You know you have something to say, not just to provide information but also to give a perspective that you have developed from your own engagement of life. You verify the objective facts about your subject matter (in accordance with the requirements of whatever kind of writing you are doing). You communicate your own personal experience honestly and openly, while also striving to learn from it and help others to learn along with you. You work very hard at it. But no one seems to be listening (or reading). You feel like a failure.

But the most important and profound success for a writer can't really be measured. It's qualitative rather than quantitative. It is ulitmately personal; indeed it entails in a radical sense the aspiration for person-to-person communication.

Here, however, it can be hard to perceive any kind of clear and accurate "results." Often other people don't recognize right away the value of what might just be a seed planted in their hearts, a small adjustment to the way they look at reality. Of course, the desire to write and to communicate feels the need for response - so we have comments boxes, email, live presentations (perhaps), personal conversations, correspondence, and other possibilities for interacting with readers. Such interaction can be fruitful and helpful, but it doesn't exhaust the desire to communicate that continually motivates the writer's work. The "satisfaction" of success is not found here.

Even writers who receive lots of positive "feedback," appreciation, good reviews, or even awards and fame will find that none of these things are adequate. Indeed, the most enthusiastic and sympathetic readers - who perceive more of what the writer wants to convey (and/or communicate more appreciation for it) - still leave the writer somewhat "dissatisfied." There is a "gap" that remains between the writer's investment of themselves in communicating and the limits of what is understood. Being misinterpreted goes beyond this gap and brings real frustration to any serious writer. 

Whether in essays or art, prose or poetry, writing proves to be a long and difficult labor that we nevertheless undertake because its value is beyond immediate "measurable returns." Even if we consider that what we are trying to express may be more important as a contribution to the awareness of future generations, this remains an aspiration beyond our control, and one that underscores the "loneliness" of our efforts here and now.

The fundamental value of what we're doing, however, is in the truth and worth as such of what we have expressed. The thing that keeps us going, that brings us back to writing and keeps us writing through thick and thin, is the truth of what we are trying to communicate (even, indeed especially, when it's that particularly-difficult-to-articulate "truth about ourselves and our perspective on reality," drawn from personal experience).

That is our task in writing reflections and sharing our own experience. To communicate even a drop of that truth we thereby perceive (in spite of its being mixed in with our vanity, our incoherence, our stylistic idiosyncrasies, and all our other personal limitations) is what makes it worthwhile.

The heart of what we do is something that belongs in the category of witness. Other aspects - like finding the right platforms to promote our writing, expanding our readership, and seeing some level of impact - certainly have their place in our concerns. We want to communicate with other people, so obviously we want more people to read what we're writing, benefit from it, and appreciate it. It's only natural to want these things, and to feel disappointed when they seem to be lacking.

The overabundance of statistics available today don't necessarily give us a picture of the real value of our writing. Electronic media platforms tend to further enhance the distortion that reduces all forms of communication to the status of transactions involving the production and consumption of information. We can't give these things too much weight. We give the "production issues" whatever attention we can, without excessive anxiety, and get help from people who know better the "business side" of things.

What matters most, however, is for us to push through any feelings of failure that will inevitably come at times from this often "dry" (and at present rather unfashionable) task, and to keep writing, to keep offering and sharing who we are and what we have to say. People will receive it and it will have an impact on them. We don't have complete control over how that happens, but the ultimate value of our literary efforts as such is not found in external measurements of success but in our own "witness," in being faithful to setting it forth and expressing it as best as we can.