Writing is an important activity in the human pantheon of activities. We often ascribe this importance to the fact that human society works on the sharing and passing on of ideas to those who will come after us, or in the case of today’s magnificently connected world, those who are our peers in distant and close-by places. Where writing doesn’t get its due is as a record of thoughts explored and solutions found, for yourself.
Many of us write diaries and personal journals when we are younger; Some continue this practice throughout their lives, a daily or irregular dumping of their thoughts, stories and concerns on paper. It makes us feel unburdened, as if what ails us, or simply interests us, has been shared with a friend. Fittingly, some personify their little book of thoughts with a name, that ultimately silent and non-judgemental good listener. But this cathartic explanation of the value of personal writing has in ways limited the scope of what we imagine writing can accomplish for us. The written word need not be limited to being that unfortunate companion you choose to weigh down with your every dissatisfaction, writing can also be your personal reference bank of how you’ve been here before, and how you succeeded in navigating this impasse the last time.
Let’s face it, if you write for pleasure or are one of many who are compelled to write, putting your thoughts down is an act of desperation, of urgency, a need to shed your rain-drenched clothes and move to an awaiting warmth. Such desperation brings with it a certain lowering of boundaries, a dropping of the self-censorship we all practice at every moment of our waking lives in order to remain appropriate and acceptable in the eyes of those around us, in our own eyes. The mirror is the harshest critic, the most cowardly of tyrants. When we lower these levys, when we express our thoughts unburdened of our own proprieties, when we write out of need because we simply must, we share things, with ourselves and others, which are more true, more honest, more revealing of how that complex mechanism that is our unique mind works, and what makes it continue to work despite the ever mounting odds of life and existence. These insights are crucial. Not just as a piece of crystallised empathy to be felt by other human beings, who will see glimpses of their own experiences, their own fears, in your thoughts and musings. They are crucial for you, the writer, the unburdener, the forgeter of your discarded troubles and often your discarded solutions to the unique face of your less-than-unique conundrums.
There is a magic in this act, this expressing of thoughts, not only in that it removes an internal phenomenon into an external reality, but also in the subtle fact that that which is nebulous, fleeting and ephemeral is pressed with some degree of permanence into eternal reality. Suddenly your thoughts are a tangible object, a limited collection of words, a narrowed down, focused version of an internal chaos. These decisions on your part are magical and revealing.
While this mostly self-indulgent outpouring into never-to-be-seen tomes has its uses, there is also the danger of writing too much for yourself. How many times, in the heat of the moment, in the reverie of an involved conversation, have you quickly scribbled something on a piece of paper, only to have no recognition of what you have written shortly after? It happens to us all. Sometimes it is a common matter of the written script assassinated in a hurried attempt at efficiency and speed, other times the letters are perfectly legible, the words fathomable, but their meaning distant and shadowed in doubt. Writing only for yourself, you make the bold assumption that you shall be the same you when the message needs to be read and understood. But the fact is that you have already changed by the time whatever frenzy brought on the expression is done, and what you wished to express in that most personal way to your future self has become a long forgotten language. This metamorphosis into an incompatible other can sometimes take years, or it can take the length of a phone call involving furiously scribbled notes on the margins of telephone books.
For this reason, it is useful to write for others. In doing so you make fewer assumptions about the universal nature of the secret linguistic handshake you are about to perpetrate on your audience. You try to be understood, you explain, you clarify; Your future self will appreciate these clarifications. Explaining things to others calls for greater clarity and to achieve that clarity we must understand what we are trying to convey in more depth for ourselves.
In the simple blank-paged notebook in which I am scribbling this piece as I think of its form, before it will be transcribed and polished for general consumption on my site, there are a cornucopia of ideas. Some are snippets, separate and removed from everything else that came before. Some are merely the latest thought in an unending web of interconnected notions that can be traced back many years through a series of well-thumbed notebooks. Such thoughts are often prefixed or postfixed with a note; Something along the lines of “See also: note on story about a gerbil and a robotic donkey in previous notebook.” It’s simple, straight-forward and lets me maintain a loose mental linkage that can be tracked back if needed, down the archive of older iterations and details of continuously developing ideas. Some of these notions will never come to fruition, some might do so only after many hundreds of casual notes referring to earlier thoughts and explanations, earlier fancies, earlier unburdenings of mind that came about because an idea had to be expressed, and because I was compelled to write.
On this internet thing, such connections are built into the structure of everything. In fact, links were in many ways what resulted in the idea and execution of this vast global collection of human information. The concept of hypertext, text which has in-line links to appropriately connected material, existed before the net, but the net gave it true meaning. Today we write our diaries on the ephemeral and immortal paper of cyberspace. Some choose to protect them from the world, but most have them open for all the world to see. This public display of outpourings can certainly seem self-indulgent and stink of what the cynical call navel gazing, and in many cases it might be true. But, if you put the effort into making your very special thoughts mean something in general, if your concerns and solutions are moulded to the understanding of those outside ourself, those hyper-links can truly shine.
Like it or not, there will come a time when a relative stranger of some importance, your future self, will be lost. Not lost in geography, but in thought, in a quagmire of many potential actions, in a net of contradictory decisions, and they will freeze. Freeze from a complete lack direction, a blankness, a disconnection, from their surroundings, from people, and sometimes from that person of some importance that came before them. In that darkness of disconnection, not seeing any light or any way forward through the uncertainty, when your future self flips through their note book, or browses randomly trough their own blog, or stares at old sketches and visual explanations, make sure you wrote as much for them as yourself, and also make sure you left them the guiding lights of reference to lead them back to your solutions. When you can’t see anything and every step in every inky direction seems fraught with peril, see also is often all the light you need.