Friday, July 10, 2009


Writing for your life: what a bizarre idea.
In a movie, if somebody yells “Run for your life!,” you know a dinosaur or slimy alien or a volcano is about to blow, and the good guys had better get their feet moving.
And if they yell, “Fight for your life!,” the danger is even more urgent, and the good guys had better put up their dukes and claw and scratch and bite-anything to keep themselves alive. Run for your life! Fight for your life! Write for your life! Right. What could these extreme reactions to overwhelming danger-fight or flight-have in common with writing: sitting still, staring into space, pushing a pen in slow motion across a flat piece of paper, tapping rhythmically at a keyboard-?
“Write for your life!” it doesn’t make sense, and yet thousands of people in extremity –from Frederick Douglas to Anne Frank to Ritchard Wright to Roberta Menchu-have found a life-line in writing. Through words, people in war zones and prison camps can bear witness to what they experience; people in isolation can communicate beyond themselves and others, and perhaps find ways to change their circumstances.
Even in apparently placid lives-and few lives, actually, are precisely placid-writing can help us define and refine our emotions, can help us clarify and strengthen our thoughts, can help us make sense-or, even better, nonsense-out of unfairness.
So: writing for your life: how will you find place for verbal play-Where? When? What? How? People will tell you that it’s good to write in a quite place, in a quite time, where you can be solitary and contemplative; and you can see that this is good advice, if for no other reason than it keeps your little brother form reading over your shoulder while you write: it keeps your secrets safe, allows you to luxuriate in your own thinking, gives you the opportunity to submerge yourself, push yourself, make interesting mistakes, be outrageous, explore your dark side, follow your perceptions down as deep as you can take them. But-surprisingly-there’s a lot to be said for writing in public, too-observing the world, listening to the way real people talk, incorporating unanticipated incidents into your own thinking. Lots of people write in cafes, in public parks, study halls.

When you write for yourself, you can be serious or playful, or both at once; you can examine your own feelings, or you can pretend to be somebody else; you can attempt to get the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth, or you can spin out exhilarating lies; you can aim for sprawling narratives, or you can look carefully, precisely, intently, at a single detail; you can complain, all you want, without hurting anybody’s feelings, or you can dwell lovingly on your family or your friends or your sweet little puppy, without embarrassing yourself in public. Go in for a verbal volley-ball, or polish what you write, or give yourself a vacation from grammar and logic and punctuation. Anything goes!
This is it: write for your life-for your vitality, for your rich daily existence, for your spiritual essence, for your emotional expression and recalibration, for your mental exhilaration. And this is the most essential point: it’s your own intellectual life you’re writing for, and nothing you write can be wrong for you.


  1. wow! so true! what a cool thought!

  2. .. wow thank you so much, it's nice to know someone is actually reading this.. i love your blog BTW..