By reading these words I write, you are taking part in a story called civilization. Not just mine, obviously, but anyone’s. This isn’t some grand examination of writing, what it means, why it matters, or the intricacies of its structure. This is about the small things. . . the first and most important things. So you’ve decided you are going to be a writer, or that maybe you want to be a writer, or you just want to pick up writing as a hobby. Any which way, you decided you wanted a preview of what you’d be in for, and good for you. You’ve come to the right place!
My name is Connor Rickett, and I am, through a series of minor mishaps and adventures, a professional writer. I’ve been at this for a few years now, so I thought I might walk you through what you want to expect. Nobody rides quite the same ride, but I know a lot of other writers and there are common themes to the journey.
The first thing you’re going to need to do, if you haven’t already, is cultivate a true love and appreciation for the act of writing. Not storytelling, not journaling, not poetry, or prose, or diction, but the pure act of writing. Not even the love of words both rare and commonplace. You need to understand and appreciate what is occurring when you write. The writing. A look at the extraordinary experience of writing, the flow of your ideas and understanding into letters into words into sentences and back into someone else’s ideas and understanding.
Words. What are they? In the scientific sense, they are phonemes, at least in English and other descendants of the Phoenician alphabet. Herein is contained something powerful. A series of straight and curved lines which represent, depending on how exactly they go, certain sounds. Some of them are contextual, some of them universal, yet, in the end they are all stand-ins for sounds. Now, those sounds themselves carry their own meaning, which we call language, but that’s another story, and we’re focused on writing. Writing is just away to store mouth sounds so that other people can make them at their leisure, without our presence, and draw meaning from them. Often complex meaning.
Through some extraordinary series of events, pratfalls, improbable evolutionary convolutions, this ability to store mouth sounds in visual media became a marketable commodity. And well it did. It was only a little over five thousand years ago that anyone bothered to see the need to write something down, and in the very short time that has followed. . . well here you are reading my words from anywhere on earth; they have allowed the accumulation of knowledge, the proliferation of ideas and technology. With the right words, you can tell anyone how to do anything. It transforms the amassing of knowledge from a lateral process to a vertical one, with each successive generation able to build higher on the base of the previous. Or, as we sometimes call it, civilization.
Without words, without writing, we could only hope to learn as much as we could remember, or as much as the people we knew could remember. . . whichever was larger. Obscure, complicated, or seemingly useless knowledge would vanish. Today, that is not the case. Today we have multiple services which allow us to know what just about anyone is thinking about just about anything at any given moment.
So, before you sit down to write, take a moment to reflect on what you are doing. You are becoming an active participant in something very like the ongoing human consciousness.
There is danger in writing, too, though. I’ve always been balanced, just consumed by a level of wanderlust. Still, it’s no secret that many of the greats have been all but eaten alive by some demon or another. I think this comes from two sides, making it difficult to defend against. The first is simply that to be any honest good as a writer, you have to teach yourself to see things from as many angles as possible. This will complicate your life. Second, you have to pour a little of yourself into everything, and I think you’ll find you know less about the contents of your self than you think you do going into it.
The question is, Is it worth it? Of course it is. How could it not be? Here and now, with the twitch of my fingers, symbols are running together to form words with meanings, which come together to form larger contextual meanings. There exists room in addition for metaphor, sarcasm, deliberate ambiguity, and base dishonesty. There are layers. It’s broader than you’re thinking, too. When ancient men lifted the stones at Stonehenge, they were writing. The stones were the words, and they told any who knew how to read them where the stars would be on certain dates. Even now, you can go and find the tallest stone, sight yourself along it, and know, whatever the time, whatever the date, where the sun will rise on the summer solstice. You are reading the work of a master long forgotten. You might object that simple geometry is all that is, but math, too, is a language, the closest one we have to universal.
This is something sacred. This is something pure. Don’t confuse it for anything less. It is not a story, a book, a paycheck, or limerick, it is something transcendent, the act itself, regardless — though not independent of — product. Carl Sagan once said that humanity is how the universe understands itself, but the truth is we’re just middle men; it’s the writing that makes it all possible.
It’s going to be easy to forget all this, moving forward, so take a moment, now and then, to remember; writing is its own story, and you’re part of it now.