This is part three of a three-part series.
7. Writing Increases Your Attention Span In An – oh, look! A pigeon! Ahem. Seriously, that kind of thing hardly ever happens when writing, even though it seems to happen constantly when speaking or thinking. Don’t feel ashamed: a) it happens to every one of us, and b) inattention is a highly-reinforced behavior in our culture. Just think about how many images we are confronted with during one four-minute segment of television advertising. We get six to ten product advertisements, each one featuring several distinct shots juxtaposed to create a coherent, compelling narrative in thirty seconds. Those ads stimulate our desire for consumer products, but even more powerful are the cultural messages that accompany the sales pitches. One of those messages is the implication that faster is better.
As a result, activities like driving or grocery shopping, once thought to be absorbing in their own right, are now considered prime opportunities for multitasking (talking on the phone, reading, applying makeup, texting). We’re obsessed with “doing” rather than “being,” but we’re actually getting less done (see this great New York Times article: Slow Down, Brave Multitasker, and Don’t Read This in Traffic). I believe that we need to slow down and simplify in order to enrich our lives. (For more, see David B. Bohl’s Slow Down Fast Today! and Tina Su’s Think Simple Now.)
The act of writing takes time (especially using the low-tech, pen-and-paper method), and while you’re writing, you are focusing. Your mind may wander, but if you continue to sit there with the pen in your hand your mind will refocus. Writing ties you to the present, even for a few moments, just as meditation does. And in a chronically inattentive culture such as ours, that is no small feat.
8. Writing Connects Us. For a while, I wondered whether writing was losing its place. The latest pop CD would sell hundreds of thousands of copies, but no one was lining up outside bookstores waiting to buy the latest volume of contemporary poetry. Were film, television, music, and movies displacing writing – not only literature as an art form, but writing as a means of communication? And what was happening to conventions of grammar, usage, punctuation, and capitalization in the email age? I wondered whether I was witnessing a significant cultural paradigm change. Something that, 200 years from now, might be called The End Of The Book.
I no longer worry. The place of writing is changing, yes. But writing is not “losing” anything. On the contrary, writing is occupying an ever wider place. The blogosphere is a great instance of the ways in which writing continues to facilitate connections among people, allowing us to share ideas and insights, provide entertainment and information, and generally help all of us to live more fulfilled lives. I created this blog in large part to honor those connections and to contribute to the community of bloggers and blog readers who have enriched my life.
9. Writing Is Full Of Little Victories. At the beginning of a new semester, when I ask my students to introduce themselves to the class as writers, some inevitably say something like: “I can’t write.” “I am terrible at writing.” “English is my worst subject.” “I’m not a writer.” At some point in their education or upbringing, they got the idea that writing is a talent. Either you had it or you didn’t. They didn’t. Secure in the truth of their statements, they meet my eyes with looks of resignation or worry. It’s going to be a long semester, their eyes say.
“Great news!” I tell them. “As it turns out, writing is a skill, and anyone can learn to improve it.” So we get to work. We break things down. We discuss ideas, argumentative strategies, communicative purpose. We talk about grammar and usage in order to discover how little things like commas contribute to our reader’s understanding and, therefore, to our purpose for writing. “I’ve never thought about my papers this way,” they say. And when a few weeks later they are helping each other remove passive voice and strengthen thesis statements, they do so not because “it’s the rule” but because they know that even though they have a lot to learn, they are writers.
Writing is full of opportunities to bask in the glow of accomplishment, from establishing a solid metaphor to punctuating a complex sentence correctly. We get pleasure from working to improve our writing for the same reason that we get pleasure from struggling with a puzzle: there are many little payoffs along the way and a deep sense of satisfaction throughout the process. Writing is full of little victories.