The question of what motivates and inspires writers has enduring appeal for anyone eager to pursue the creative life. It also reveals some fascinating insights from which anyone can benefit.
We all have a story to tell, as individuals, organisations, communities, societies, businesses. And just like any story, if it’s interesting enough and told well, people will listen.
Progress in the technology and creative worlds continues to bring new and innovative ways of exploiting the medium for the message — videos, animation, installations, PR campaigns, advertising, the list goes on. In every case it’s the message that counts, it’s the words that matter.
Both the process of finding the right words and the act of communicating them can bring numerous, scientifically verified benefits — this is worth noting in itself, facts and evidence are important.
Here are some other reasons why writing could prove invaluable to you:
1. Develop your ideas & your profile
“Good writing isn’t a science, it’s an art, and the horizon is infinite. You can always get better.” David Foster Wallace, novelist, essayist, and professor of English and creative writing
As with any other craft, writing takes practice, patience and persistence. In order to develop, you must keep it at through the sketchy first drafts and in spite of criticism. Failure and rejection are part of the process.
Spending some time thinking about your own motivations — what you want to achieve personally or as a business for instance, what difference it will make to you or your company or your clients, how you plan to get there — is equally important. Don’t be afraid to fill the blank page with whatever comes to mind. Once you start polishing that first draft and editing your ideas, ideally down to one or two sentences, you’ll arrive at something resembling an overarching vision and a living document that will fuel your efforts in the long term.
Not only does the process of articulating your vision help to focus your own mind, it helps your audience to understand you. This in turn will encourage them to engage with you, whether to praise your sharp insights or to challenge your ideas. Either is beneficial — you can only learn from the experience, sharpen your argument and improve.
The author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek summarises the point in his TED Talk ‘Start with Why’ — if people are persuaded by why you do what you do, they’re more likely to believe in you, your product or your idea. In turn, they’re more likely to invest their time or money.
2. Focus the mind
“As soon as you have the words with which to express something, you are no longer incoherent, you are no longer trapped by your own emotions, by your own experiences, you can bring them out of yourself and give them to somebody else.” Jeanette Winterson, writer, broadcaster and activist
Much has been written about the creative benefits of keeping a diary. From WH Auden to Virginia Woolf, Franz Kafka to Susan Sontag, writers across the ages have attested to the creative power of excavating the mind of peripheral clutter, whether to find the prosaic gems, practice their art or as a form of catharsis.
Keeping a diary can be a satisfying way to end the day and is often recommended for insomniacs — when your mind is racing at night, grab a pen and note down your worries, ideas, thoughts in general. In the cold light of day, you might find they were the best you ever had, in which case, it will spark your creative flow. Or dawn might just illuminate the frantic whirrings of a restless mind.
Either way, you have placed time between the first draft and the edit, and that’s one of a writer’s best tools — incubation time.
3. Consolidate information & enhance your memory
“The palest ink is more reliable than the most powerful memory.” Confucius, Chinese philosopher
When we stop to contemplate and then scribe our reflections on the day, on a moment, on a book, or whatever held our attention at any given time, we are more likely to retain that information.
Psychological tests also show that the act of writing something down, whether it’s a reminder or detailed notes from a lecture, we consolidate how information is stored in the brain.
4. Prompt discussion
“An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way; an artist says a hard thing in a simple way.” Charles Bukowski, poet and novelist
One of the timeless ways through which we enhance our understanding of the world and everything in it is by reading. Yes there is an unquantifiable amount of information uploaded to the internet every day, but with a global internet population approaching 3 billion, someone somewhere is always looking for something.
That something could be your story — if you provide content that is interesting and well articulated.
This is particularly evident when communicating academic or scientific ideas. In the pre-digital age of 1985, The Royal Society, the world’s oldest scientific academy whose strapline is “promoting science for the benefit of humanity”, unequivocally stated that “the intrinsic contribution of science to our culture argues that imparting such understanding is a duty the scientist owes to the public…[it is] is an investment in the future.”
The same could be said of most stories. They contribute to our collective intellectual progress.
5. Develop “the gratitude attitude”
“Good prose is like a window pane.” George Orwell, novelist, journalist, essayist and critic
Psychologists have found that a regular writing habit can improve our levels of happiness by encouraging us to think systematically in a solution-based way.
Professor Richard Wiseman, author of ‘59 Seconds, Think a Little Change a Lot’, cites research in which three groups of people were asked to spend a few minutes writing each week. The first group focused on five things they were grateful for, the second noted five things that annoyed them and the third logged five events that had taken place the past week. Those in the gratitude group ultimately proved to be much happier, more optimistic and physically healthier.
Similar results were found in studies where participants were asked to write down how they imagined their future if they achieved all they hoped for, sticking with the realms of reality rather than fantasy. And where volunteers were asked to spend 20 minutes writing down why a significant other meant so much to them, this “affectionate writing” led to reductions in stress.
6. The sheer joy of self-expression
…is worth the effort alone. In the words of the American writer Henry Miller:
“The enjoyment of a beautiful thought is nothing to the joy of giving it expression. An artist is an instrument that registers something already existent, something which belongs to the whole world and which, if he is an artist, he is compelled to give back to the world.”
George Orwell would call this sheer egoism. He may have a point. It’s essentially the same principle that motivates scientists, artists, musicians, politicians, lawyers, business people, everyone — the all too human desire for recognition.