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The Book Everyone Should Write

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"In the writing of books, there is no end" a wise King once wrote but I wonder if he ever asked himself why people write. An obvious answer would be to communicate thoughts and ideas with the outside world, but is that always the case? Maybe. Many people write their story because there is a part of them that is just dying to be heard or because they are trying to put some reason into life or maybe it is for posterity's sake. Whatever the reason, biographies and autobiographies abound. The most interesting story is the autobiography written as it happens. The challenge in writing the story of your life as you live it is that even though certain facts never change, interpretation and reaction to them do change. So when peering into the past the color of each memory changes with each new event. So it is a story that never ends.

My interest in biographies started at an early age. I have memories of elementary school, reading the story of Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan. I think I read every book on her life at the time. I would even pretend to walk around blind by squeezing my eyes close as hard as I could. They would ever so slightly start to release so that within a minute, I would be peeking only to slam them shut again to try again. Why was I so fascinated with Helen Keller? Did I think it was romantic to have some sort of handicap or did I see myself as walking around blind and deaf? What ever the case, these fell into the category of the traditional biography.

The trouble with biographies such as these, is they are written by someone who never knew the subject and didn't even live during the same time. Usually people write these biographies because the subject had a special gift or talent that appealed to the author and wished to let others know about the events of this person's life. It is impossible for the author to ever know though what was actually on the subjects mind. Why did he make this decision? What bizarre event happened to them as a child that made them only like a certain kind of food or wear a certain color or make a pivotal decision at just the right time to change history? These things are speculated upon but no one ever knows for sure what was going through the mind of the subject.

As with all children, my tastes changed as I grew and I soon left the real world stories and moved on to fiction. I didn't return to the non-fiction world until college when I fell in love with history. I started reading any history book I could find though usually colonial America and Britain was my greatest interest. I, of course, combined this with my love for fiction and became an avid fan of historical fiction. Among the books I read, David McCullough's John Adams is one of my favorites. What made this of course so interesting was not so much McCullough's writings but the letters of John Adams that were so prolific within the book. John Adams actually wrote an autobiography in his personal letters to Thomas Jefferson. But like most autobiographies, they were written in the last few years of his life more for posterity's sake then anything. In them, Adams expressed his thoughts and feelings when making the decisions that he did so there would be no need for speculation but were a justification for his actions.

Also in college, I was introduced to another great author, Vladimir Nabokov. Even though he is most famous for his fictious novel about a girl named Lolita, he was a prolific writer with an unbelievable mastery of language and wit. One of his more popular works is Speak, Memory were Nabokov writes the story of his life. Stripped of his wealth and in need of funds for his family he started writing essays that were published in a magazine. So instead of writing his memoirs at the end of his life, in a desperate attempt to put some meaning and justification in his actions, he just wrote essays about some part of his life. As he experienced life, he added and edited the essays so that now we read his final versions not his original. His memories changed as he experienced life but these memories were who he was, so he was constantly exploring himself while he was still alive. His purpose wasn't to explain himself or life course but give his experience as he remembered it. It was just as much a journey for him as it was his reader.

Many times we hear the phrase "trying to find myself." Why are we constantly trying to find ourselves? How can we possibly lose ourself? The question is asked because rarely do we know who we are in the first place. We identify ourselves with people and events, when in reality it is our reaction to these that is our real identity. Two people can have the exact same life experience, but the way they live with these is what makes them different. That is what makes us who we are, what we like, what we dislike, what are future will be. Very rarely do we analyze why we did this or that.

When I look at life in general, I usually see four phases, childhood, adulthood, middle adulthood (usually involving parenthood), and the period that comes after the raising of kids. The time spent in each of these phases varies for everyone and as the Nationwide commercial goes "life comes at you fast." Each phase is crucial though, in our self realization. It begins with childhood, the period that most shapes who we are. Childhood is where we form all our basic beliefs and our window to the outside world. It is the reaction to events in childhood that are most informative as to who we are. As a child, the information given to us is so limited. There are no experiences or other perspectives to base our reactions and feelings so our parents are our window to the world and however they feel about the world is the basis for our feelings. Parents also control the window so they decide how big a window we have, what our view will be and how long the exposure. As teenagers we start to have some control over the window but we usually just use it to react to our parents decisions for us. It is not until we leave home and experience life without that filter that we begin to define our world but by that point our loves and hates and fears that were filtered through our parents or those who raised us has been fairly well ingrained. So it is not until we sit down and ask ourselves why do I like this or why am I afraid of that that we begin to understand who we are as an individual and not as a collective of our past. Unfortunately, people usually skip through this part and head straight into parenthood and so don't have the opportunity to take care of this until the kids leave home therefore heading into a deep depression because they have lived half their life and still have no idea of who they are or where they are headed.

So who am I and where am I headed is a question that needs to be asked at an early age. If we search for definitive answer we will never find it though. We are never the same person today as we were yesterday. If we figure it out as we go though it won't be so hard in the end. So maybe the world can do with another book even if the only person that sees it is the author.

Created by nikic
Last modified 2004-10-08 03:09 PM

Why Do I Write?

Posted by lnewton at 2005-11-22 04:20 PM
Why do I write? One reason is to teach myself.

Whenever I begin to write something -- as I have just now done --
I rarely know what it is that I want to say, only that I have
something to say, and want to let it out. By the time I am
finished, I do know what it was that I wanted to say. In the
process I have learned something. Because I generally write
alone, without the influence of others, except by means of
research, it's not unfair to say that I have thereby taught
myself something derived from my reasoning and meditation on the
topic at hand.

There does not have to be an audience in order for me to write.
My primary audience is myself. I will read what I have written
and then I will reread it. If I read it again years later and
have changed my mind about what I have written, or find that I
could have said it better, I will change it, because I am
pathologically incapable of reading a sentence under the control
of an editor and not editing it. In fact, I'm engaged in that
very activity right now!

Our need to teach ourselves reminds me of what the apostle Paul
said at Romans 2:21: "Do you, however, the one teaching someone
else, not teach yourself?" Most people desire at some level to be
teachers when they speak or write, to be conveyors of information
in some sense of that expression. In speech we have only the
speed of thought's opportunity to edit what we say. Perhaps that
is one reason some of the best thinkers also use word whiskers
and regressions when they speak -- they are searching for *les
bon mots*, and are already revising in their heads their
just-made expressions.

Another Bible-related thought that comes to mind is the
obligation that Christians acknowledge to be teachers of others,
an activity in which I myself happily engage. Many is the time I
have experienced, when called on 'to make a defense before others
who demand a reason for' the things I know and believe, that upon
articulating some matter to another person, I have in turn
clarified it in my own mind, strengthening my own understanding,
and in turn my faith. (1 Peter 3:15) It is not unusual in such
circumstances for me to think to myself afterward: "Zounds! I
didn't know I knew that!"

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