Most creation stories offer an elaborate backstory for the protagonist’s quest. Bruce Wayne became a vigilante because his parents died, Harvey Dent became a villain because his girlfriend died and so forth. There is perhaps a reason for why you chose your current occupation, or why it chose you.
Until recently, I, like many others, believed that most writers write because they love stories, words and the magic that weaves them together. Clichéd, but beautiful. My bubble, however, was disturbed by Alain de Botton’s YouTube channel, ‘The School Of Life’. Do I live under a rock? No. But I live in Bhutan, and sometimes that’s almost the same thing. Anyway, I stumbled on a video titled, ‘Why So Many People Want to Be Writers’ and the next 4.52 minutes changed the way I look at what I love doing the most: Being a writer.
Research suggests that this decade has witnessed an unprecedented upsurge in the field of writing. One can argue over the quality of contemporary writing, the tools available, neoclassical standards etc. but, as someone who comes from a long line of writers, it makes my heart swell to see more people taking on this previously ‘lower’ profession. At this point in history, when literacy levels are improving worldwide and there’s a growing consensus that books herald societal transformation, it seems like this new enthusiasm for writing is natural or inevitable. But, like all great stories, this one has too has a mystery rattling in its core.
As Botton’s video attempts to explain this surge in writers, it spits out words and phrases like “epidemic of isolation”, “loneliness”, “despair”, and “painful solitude” – enough to turn a hypersensitive mind into a gory crime scene. However, even beyond the weight of these words, the greater source of discomfort lies in knowing that Botton’s research is impeccable. P.B. Shelley once wrote, “Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.” Writing might be a ‘noble’ pursuit, and we might have the weapons to create and destroy worlds, but how much of our sanity do we sacrifice in order to wield this power?
I have always believed that people write for one of two reasons: They don’t know how not to or they don’t know how to. But nothing in life fits into this-or-that boxes. But, now that you know that research links this swell in the number of writers to symptoms of social isolation, you’re forced to confront some hard questions: If you felt appreciated, respected, loved and heard, then would you still want to be a writer? If your partner stopped doing what was keeping them so busy, and paid you complete attention for as long as you desired, then would you still put pen to paper? If your friends, instead of just following you so tirelessly on social media, gave you the respect and love you crave, would you still look for a publisher?
Nietzsche said that one must have chaos within themselves to give birth to a dancing star, but is our inner turmoil overwhelming us so completely that writing has become a way of survival instead of simply a creative pursuit? If so, then we’re looking at a lot of undesirable repercussions.
One, if our writing is driven by the fact that we are friendless and feeling lonely, then we need to seek real help, not bury ourselves in distractions.
Two, we are doing a great disservice to literature by using it as a tool to ‘solve’ our loneliness. It might be a much healthier coping mechanism than others, but it’s a dependency nonetheless, and we would be better off if we just struck up a conversation with the other lonely person sitting next to us at our favourite café.
Three, we stop being honest with ourselves because we get tempted into only writing ‘relatable content’ to grow and maintain a steady audience base.
Four, as the video warns, writing becomes “an act of very polite and artful revenge on a world too busy to listen.” And bitter thoughts of revenge, we all have learnt, do more harm to the one who harbours them; it is like holding a knife so tight that, in the end, it severs the hand that conceals it.
The world has grown crowded and more connected, and yet, we have become lonelier. Bizarre, isn’t it? But using writing to alleviate the lonesomeness when a hug would be more helpful seems even crazier. If you can find someone you can cry with, share your nightmares and dreams with, enjoy silence with, then, darling, why not go for it? Yes, your writing might get affected, but give life a chance. Let “literature’s loss be humanity’s gain.”
And in case you find that developing a healthy circle of friends and lover(s) doesn’t stem your urge to write, then consider yourself an incurable writer.
Both ways, it’s a win-win situation.
A 24-year-old postgraduate in political science, Riya Roy leads a global team of writers for iuventum. She finds comfort in poetry.
Featured image credit: Klaas/Unsplash