Reading prepares you for writing

The things that we read affect our writing and our writing may have a profound effect on our overall happiness. This post was inspired by this, this, this and this articles.

Writing and happiness

I do not know a research showing that writers are happy. Writing and many other forms of art serve as a productive form of therapy. People choosing self-expression over more simple ways to have fun are a bit strange. Some are very introvert and shy, others are extravert and hyperactive, some are hyper-sensitive and others are overly analytic, many are extremely intelligent, and others address our deepest and simplest needs. Whatever extreme causes people to write, most writers use writing as a treatment. By dealing with emotional problems and expressing them in a constructive way, many writers can overcome their deepest fears and darkest demons.

Others use writing to improve their skillset. Many writers simply enjoy sharpening their communication skill or expressing their deepest passion. My friend and colleague Anthony Metivier loves the magic of writing, the ability to change people, shape their thoughts and help them deal with their problems. One of my friends told me that writing is the ultimate mental exercise for him, and he enjoys the effort formulating his thoughts in most accurate form. Personally, I like to learn things and I use writing as a way to organize my thoughts and improve long-term retention of what I read. I also like helping people, and writing helps me communicate with people I would never be able to assist otherwise.

Helping other people makes us happy, and most of us benefit from some sort of therapy. Seeing the product of our thoughts as a text other people can use is deeply rewarding. People who write regularly often report feeling better, some even form a sort of psychological dependence.

You do not really need to write to enjoy similar benefits. Other art forms may be equally rewarding: painters, photographers, musicians, dancers, cooking chefs report similar feelings of purpose and fulfillment.

What should I write about?

Choosing the sort of content you will write is highly challenging. I published poetry, self-help, scientific publications, patents and other texts. Each sort of writing is profoundly different and affects you in a different way.

  • Blogging and journalism. If you are passionate about something and want to make writing about it a part of your weekly routine, blogging is right for you. The more you write about the subject, the deeper you will understand it. You will learn in order to write and you will write in order to learn.
  • Non-fiction book. Sometimes we have a profound thought that cannot be adequately covered in something as small as a post. If we need 100 pages just to express the idea, we might as well write a book. Many books come as a result of the way of life we have chosen and ideas that shaped us this way. Once we wrote a couple of books, we could write about similar subjects just because we need to express some other sides of the similar ideas. Writing a book takes several months or years, so this is not something we do casually.
  • Fiction. Creating fiction we enjoy the universe in which the action takes place and the mechanics of making our audience react with a specific sequence of emotions as a result of reading. There is no clear preference between the form and the essence, a good fiction book will have both. Writing fiction is probably the most demanding writing form, and it really stimulates our creative juices.
  • Poetry. Poetry is a music composed of words. Poets obsess with sounds and “color” of different words and phrases, playing with different syllables and tones to express feelings in a rhythmic and logically sound way. Good poems are typically very compact, very few geniuses can create long poems that are really good. In a way, a poem is a photo of our soul in some particular moment. If you do not feel the irresistible need to create poetry, you will be better off without it.
  • Scientific or technical writing. It is possible to engineer things with words. Words can describe scientific experiments, math formulas, and engineering marvels that exist only as a mental exercise. If your research is thorough, your thought is creative, your visualizations are vivid and your words are accurate and well-thought, you may want to express yourself using a formal language of science and technology. In this case, writing is just the media to implement some grand design, and as such, it should be very schematic and accurately formulated.

What you read is what you write

When we read extensively, we engage in some sort of dialog with the authors of the texts that we read. At the beginning, we do not really understand the raison d’etre of the text that we read. With time we get used to the language, start noticing small nuances, understand the main message of each text and why it was written, and even get infected by the language and the way the sentences are formed. Some writers (like Tolkien) specifically construct language structures to make a unique statement, but most of us simply mirror the style of the material we read and love reading. Unconsciously, we copy the length and complexity of the sentences, the logical structures, commonly used phrases and artistic solutions [how many adjectives and metaphors you use].

The subjects we write about also strongly correlate with what we read. It is not a secret that Hollywood releases several very similar films each year, following some trends we do not even notice.

Every written text should have a unique message, some innovation over what we have written. This innovation may come in form of style, content, main idea, examples, language etc. It is very rare to see multiple messages in a single text: usually we reuse the same templates and focus on the main idea we need to emphasize. Like bokeh in photography, it makes our main message clear and reduces the amount of attention that is drawn to the background material.

The art of making art

Writing is one of the least demanding forms of art: you do not need dedicated rooms and costly equipment, there is no toll on your body and almost anyone can do it. The absence of apparent logistics is tricky. If you want to write something worth reading you do need to commit a lot of your time and effort. Knowing yourself and your audience is the first step. Building a schedule that allows you to write and overcome the writing blocks may be tricky. You will need some sort of support system to get published and read: most self published books never find their audience. Modern writers are master salesmen, which is crucial to stand above the noise. Do you really need this sort of infrastructure and effort? Only if you want to become professional. You can be perfectly happy as an amateur writer. In some ways, it is more honest, independent and fulfilling position. Write for your friends and family, write for your own satisfaction, and maybe you will get lucky and get discovered.

The mind “stations”

Our thoughts often get tuned to some sort of inner radio station. When we are obsessed about something, research about it, talk to people about the same subject our brain starts to generate its own “radio programs”, interviewing itself and processing various possible scenarios. Some “stations” help us, other “stations” should be turned off. If your inner radio sings “you are a failure”, it is not a very constructive program. If you get the “voice of music”, you may enjoy it and you will be fun to be with. Once you get to the “latest and greatest in science and technology” or “how to make money and influence people”, you may get a career boost. Once we decide what we want to write about, we tend to listen more to that particular mind station. So choose carefully what you write about, since it will influence who you are at least till the writing is over. The experience is not intense as an actor getting under the skin of a character, but it is there nonetheless. I do not personally know people who can write at the same time about many different subjects, simply because the cognitive load of such activity would be very high.

Summary

What we read influences what we write, and what we write correlates with what kind of person we are. Writing can be very good for you, do choose carefully what you want to write about.

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