What could be better than writing? What could be better than to fully clarify your own thoughts and to understand yourself? Call it self-love, but I’m addicted to it. I love that moment when it comes together, and it is correct and perfect in its place, when it finally means exactly what I mean, even when I did not realize it myself until I saw it written out.
I know the post title is “Why I Love Writing,” but because I like balance, I must also mention what I hate about writing. Because I like ending on a good note, I’ll start with what I hate.
Why I hate writing:
1) When people read it, you will get judged.
No matter what you write in what style or for what reason (fiction, nonfiction, creative, or the dry facts of science reports), it is you on paper. And it will be read by others, and it will be judged — ie, you will be judged. In science, the experiments and results are what they are, but when you write them up, it is you that will be judged. Unfortunately, scientific papers are not picture-books, and how you write it up can drastically impact the reader’s interpretation of the data.
2) It’s hard.
For it to be good, you have to work hard to improve yourself, not just the work. With science, it may be hard to troubleshoot experiments and understand and interpret the results, but you are learning about something. To improve writing, you have to improve yourself, specifically your thoughts. In writing, the thing you are learning about (you) changes as you learn about it. It’s double the work.
3) It’s never done, never complete, and certainly never good (in the complete sense).
No matter what you put on paper, it is never good. You may read it and be satisfied with it, but come back the next day, and you’re dissatisfied and think it’s junk. It can always be improved. But the good news is, once it’s published, it’s done. (And it’s never done until it’s published.) (…and by “it,” I mean the writing part. Once it’s out there, it’s forever, and talking about it may never be done. No pressure.)
Those are all fine and true, but the nasty truth is that I secretly love those things deep down. On the surface, it’s scary to be judged, but it opens the door to improvement. And it’s a little thrilling to think that someone outside of yourself not only thought of you but even spent time and energy developing that thought. Even better if they tell you what they think of your writing (ahem, do authors a favor, and write reviews!). And while it’s hard, it’s so, so rewarding. Getting a piece to the point where I involuntarily exhale and stop working on it because I am satisfied with it is one of my absolute favorite feelings. I am proud, and I am happy with my work, even when I know I will find flaws in it later. In that moment, I like myself. And how crappy would a craft be if there really was a ceiling, a point at which it could no longer get better? So, in the end, I even love the things I hate about writing. But there are also specific aspects of writing that I love.
Reasons I love writing:
1) It is immediately productive (and thus immediately satisfying).
In science (I’m a research scientist IRL), you can easily work sixty hours in a week and have nothing to show for it at the end. Or it gets reduced to one page in your notebook that features a picture of a gel with nothing on it, evidence for your future self who will ask, “am I sure it didn’t work? Let me check my notes.” [spends an hour searching and checks notes] “Oh yeah, thank goodness I put this picture of an empty gel in here or else I would have spent another sixty hours trying it again!” (Actually, the unfortunate part of science that is immediately UNsatisfying is that often just doing it again, repeating every step exactly as you did before, works. But that’s for another post.) The point is, a lot of work is frustrating and dissatisfying. With writing, however, you immediately have a product. As soon as you start, you have something to show. Then, you work on it, make it worth reading, and you’re done. You are ready to move on to the next thing.
2) It forces you to “just do it.”
One reason it is immediately productive is because the only way to do it…is to do it. You may have to read and understand something first, but the only way it gets written up is to just write it. And unlike many things in research, with writing, the hardest parts are starting and finishing. In science, you do an experiment, and it doesn’t work, and you have to analyze why, and you have to try again, and you have to troubleshoot, and the hard part is getting through it; in the end you have a picture of an empty gel to put in your notebook and a defeated attitude that promises to have more energy to work on it tomorrow. With writing, getting started is the hardest part because you just have to force yourself to just do it. You have to be mentally prepared for the process, which includes the 3 dreaded pieces mentioned above. But once you get started, it’s easy. You write, you edit, you rewrite, you edit it again. Then, the next hardest part is finishing, deciding when it’s done, doing the tedious little checks. Once you have the content finished, it’s easy to just drop it, but you must rewrite it, think about how to improve it, give it to someone who will help you, ie, you must finish the product for publication. With writing, you just do it. And this quickly teaches you that it isn’t just in writing: in all areas of life, nothing gets done until you just do it. And you just wrote this, so you can do anything, so long as you do it.
3) You will automatically get better at it each time.
Writing is a skill and a craft. With each time, it not only gets easier, but it gets better. With writing, as long as you edit and think about how to improve, you will.
4) It allows you to clarify your thoughts and helps you communicate effectively.
Writing is thinking coherently and forcing thoughts into words that others can understand. To make others understand it, you must understand it yourself. You can know how to do something in science or have knowledge, but you don’t really know it until you can communicate it to others; writing does this for you anyway. And with writing, you not only know your thoughts clearly enough to explain them to others, but you now know yourself clearly (mind blown) because, as mentioned above, it’s double the work.
So, there you have it. Things you want out of life: satisfaction in work by having something to show for the amount of effort you put into it and having finished products, doing something, improvement, and bettering yourself. Writing allows you to do all of this simultaneously.
Granted, you could say the same about cleaning, gardening, and many others. But I hate doing those things. I love writing.