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Write Now. Write Often.

Violins are spiraling darkly from a corner of the room. It is late July and the smell of summertime is so thick in our senses that the cold seems a forgotten relative, or maybe the “sponsored child” in some third-world country; one whose face you’ve seen and whose letters you’ve received but whose life recedes to the edge of your awareness until it’s time to send a new check. Months go by, more checks are sent, and the winter crawls past on shaggy bear-limbs until we decide we can’t keep ignoring it.

Here, though, heat settles like a sponge on my neck: I am in a sidewalk cafe in the East Village or maybe Prague, reminded of place by scent of cedar coffee, the sharp bite of orange peels. A notebook is suddenly no home for this feeling boiling inside of me, this unending need to bring some creation, some newness, to the world. All of us are living the embodiment of our thoughts, piled up like a dusty catalogue of desires and hope; even as you read this, we are going through the motions of an existence, sometimes oblivious to the reality we’re creating.

But even if we choose not to accept it, we are writers, shedding black blood on lined-paper wings. It’s our duty to keep going, isn’t it?

People have always told me I should be writing this down; that my life is more interesting from the outside. But where to begin? Chronology seems an oddly limited approach— too obvious, too flat for the story I’m about to tell you. What, then? Where can it begin?

I guess it begins right now, on an uptown R train barreling beneath the corridors of New York. We have just passed Cortlandt Street, formerly of the World Trade Center; this would have been my home station, had there not been an incident involving two rather large airplanes. We’ll get to that, though—there’s time for everything. (Or at least some kind of Greatest Hits compilation—a life compressed into sound bites. Boom, uuuh, smooch, scribble, flash, howl, flicker, groan. Fade to black.)

But even in a book, even in a thousand pages, how can one even scratch the surface? In every moment there is more detail, more richness, more life than any pen could hope to elucidate. How can this conversion, this reduction and exclusion, ever be achieved?

All we can do, it seems, is to keep trying.

No matter who you are, no matter what you do for a living or what your plans are, you need to be writing. Actual, physical, movement-of-pen-on-paper writing.

“But I can’t read my own handwriting!” you complain. “It takes too long!”

To this, I respectfully counter, shut up and do it. It’s easy to find a reason not to write; writing is probably one of the scariest things we can do as human beings. Leaping out of an airplane and hoping your parachute works doesn’t leave you face-to-face with your own insecurities (remember that fear is the result of insecurity, but isn’t itself an insecurity). Likewise, making drastic and significant life changes is commendable– but this, too, usually comes from a desire to push away the very problems writing forces you to confront. Problems like boredom, lack of drive, confusion, doubt; problems like realizing there’s only so much time left to live, and so many dreams you haven’t even started working towards. These are problems that hurt. They are problems that matter.

So why is it so important? What could possibly be worth taking up so much time, so much angst, if it’s not only not your passion but not even something you enjoy?

Writing is, quite simply, a record. It is the most direct, most visceral, most intuitive way to actually connect a given experience. Any other form of art requires knowledge of specific materials, but writing requires nothing but the language you speak. You need know nothing more than this, to at least remind yourself (and maybe, hopefully, others) of what’s happening to you. And this immediacy is exactly why it’s so scary. Because nothing is required, we create more and more necessary “material”– I need this notebook, this pen, this time of day; I need to write when I have these kinds of thoughts; I need to wait until this happens.

The truth is, you don’t need much of anything. You need a life. You need to be thinking. Oh, and yes, you do need a pen and paper.

At its core, you can simply write a sentence or two about what stood out the most about today. Trust me when I say that the strange thrill of reading even this one sentence a few weeks later (when you have no memory of the event) is reason enough to keep going. The world revealed through even these tiny glimpses helps you understand just how much goes on in your daily affairs. These “sentences” can, and should, grow with time and confidence– just as you will.

At the more extreme end, writing serves as a channel with the subconscious; it allows you to pick yourself apart, to analyze your thinking, to work with more RAM than just what’s in your head. Start by writing down an idea (recurring or not), and then asking questions: why this? What has this come up? Where would it take me? What does it mean? The answers are virtually guaranteed to surprise you, especially if you think you know what you’re going to say.

Writing is a way to contact pieces of yourself so often held down by more pressing matters: it allows you a time and space to process life at greater detail. When the world is flashing by at 60 miles an hour, writing lets you slow down and enjoy the sights. And what spirited, awake individual wouldn’t want more of that?

Write now. Write often.

Image: Michael Cook painting, “Mirrors and Vortices“.

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