Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Of writing, intellectual DNA and immortality

This post was triggered by the interaction I have had with friend of mine based on the article he had written on why we want to be ‘liked’ and ‘shared’ on social media.

To begin with, it made me think more about the fundamental issue of ‘why we want to write’. It has been argued that the legitimate way of achieving 'immortality' is through children, and this includes 'intellectual children' (like posts, articles, books etc.) in addition to biological children*. Writing enables one to transcend the limitations of time and space (as one's views can be read by people on the other side of the world, that too many years after it was written). Therefore, writing allows one to spread one's ‘intellectual DNA’ far and wide, and it might persist indefinitely, especially in the digital world with increasing information storage capacity.

Human motivations are complex (see 'The power of carrot and stick'), and people indeed have different reasons for writing. There are relatively obvious ones like writing to make a living, writing to highlight one's expertise etc. There are also reasons that are a bit more subtle.  Let’s look at 15 of them:  

  1. Writing as self-expression: ‘I write to describe the world in the unique way I see it and react to it’.
  2. Writing to clarify and develop thoughts: ‘My fingers seem to have an intelligence which is different from that of my brain – writing is thinking on paper! When I try to write down my thoughts, they become much clearer – writing allows me to develop an inkling into an insight'.  
  3. Writing as sense-making: ‘Life makes more sense in retrospect – especially when I try to pin it down on paper. Writing gives me a handle to get a good grasp on life - it allows me to impose structure on the world’!
  4. Writing to create own world: ‘The real world is often a disappointment – writing allows me to construct a world of my choice. It allows me to live in world that is better than what I find myself in’!
  5. Writing as alchemy: ‘Writing allows me to transform my leaden emotions to golden ones - to transform sadness into longing and to transform solitude into remembrance’!
  6. Writing as therapy: ‘Writing serves as some sort of mental house-cleaning for me – it helps me to get stuff off my chest and to relieve stress – it has a cathartic effect on me’.
  7. Writing as a spontaneous act of generosity: ‘My writing is my special gift to the world and to the people who inhabit it.  The words I write form during those beautiful moments when life touches me deeply- like pearls get formed in an oyster when an external object hurts its skin’!
  8. Writing to be understood: ‘Writing not only helps me to understand but also to be understood’.
  9. Writing as advocacy: ‘Writing allows me to secure a hearing for things that I strongly believe in’!
  10. Writing to influence: ‘Writing is my way of try to influence the thinking of others – my attempt to shape the world’.
  11. Writing as thought experiment: “Writing enables me to create and to mentally playout/test the different possibilities - this is especially useful in those situations where the actual 'experiment' is difficult/ risky/ costly'! 
  12. Writing as shadow work: ‘Writing allows me to speak to my repressed emotions and to integrate them’!
  13. Writing as self-discovery: ‘Writing allows me to make the unconscious conscious and to discover parts of myself that I never knew existed’.
  14. Writing to be more objective: ‘Putting my thoughts in writing allows me to put some distance between me and my thoughts – it changes my relationship with my thoughts and allows me to me more objective’.  
  15. Writing as ‘exorcism’: ‘Writing allows me to exorcise the ghosts in my mind that came into existence because of thoughts/issues in my mind that were not properly processed/buried’!  

Now, let's come back to the article that triggered this post. Yes, it is true that a social media 'like' or a 'share' need not necessarily mean that the reader has understood/agreed with or will act on the content of the post. As we have seen above, writing serves many purposes. Sometimes, when one posts something on social media, one doesn't necessarily want to influence the readers (in terms of driving behavior change) - sometimes, one just wants to be heard. ‘Liking’ and ‘sharing’ can give one a sense of being ‘heard’ or ‘appreciated’. 

Sometimes, one just wants to trigger thinking/discussion on an issue- without trying to propagate a particular point of view. There are indeed people who are remembered for the questions they raised and not for the answers they provided! 'Liking' and 'sharing' can enable more reach and discussion! Again, if a reader 'likes' or 'reshares' a post (even without getting influenced by it), it might reach someone else who might resonate much more strongly with the post - a highly connected world increases the probability of serendipitous encounters! 

In a way, writing involves creating something new - it is a creative process. A creative process has its own intrinsic rewards! It can make us feel intensely alive. It is indeed possible to experience the 'flow state' while writing. Sometimes, we might even get the feeling that something is written through us and not by us. This state of 'enthusiasm' (in the original meaning of the word) also has spiritual implications/associations. Anyway, we can definitely say that writers not only shape their words - they are also shaped by their words and the process that brings about the words! 

* This does raise a question on why the quest for immortality is relevant. In a way, the quest for immortality is a very human response to the fear of death. Fear, including the fear of death, has survival value. Of course, if one believes that humans are immortals to begin with, such a quest might become superfluous for him/her!  

Any comments?


Anonymous said...

Hello Prasad. What an amazing insight into writing. Pushes one to imagine and reflect on both as a reader and as a writer. Writing is a responsibility where the writer needs to exercise caution that words can create ripple effect and impact the impressionable mind in fundamental ways. You can help writers achieve higher depth and wisdom with this clarity of messaging on why are they intending to write. Loved it.

Prasad Kurian said...

Thank you very much Amrita!

Arul said...

Writing is cathartic and calms the mind, generates ideas, helps clarify values and decide better... Thank you for the lovely post, Prasad!!

Prasad Kurian said...

Thank you very much, Arul!

Anand said...

What a wonderful list that is mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive on the motivations to write Prasad. A question: Do you think the motivations have shifted over time? Has there been a shift before and after social media.

Prasad Kurian said...

Thank you very much, Anand. Interesting question! To me, the motivations to write are closely linked to the basic human motivations/needs and hence might not have changed much. Yes, social media has created opportunities for some of the latent motivations to become evident. Social media has also made the expression of some of these motivations socially acceptable!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Prasad for this article which made me realise that there could be so many reasons for people to pen down their thoughts on various topics. While reading the article, I started introspecting on what makes me write an occasional post in the social media and in the process I could resonate with a couple of reasons out of the 15 so nicely articulated by you.

Prasad Kurian said...

Thank you very much, Naresh Sir! Honored to see your comment!

Amar Chegu said...

Hi, Kurian. Thank you for having shared the link to this most deeply reflective post on writing. Much appreciation. Writing is indeed parts of so many things that you have detailed - it enables exploration within, reveal the hazy and jumbled, attempt at communication and most importantly initiate considered action. The welcome by-products are clarity, confidence and a sense of bien etre. Let’s write on… Cheers

Prasad said...

Thank you very much, Amar!