Why We Write
Have you ever stopped in the middle of what you were doing and just asked yourself: “What am I doing?” This isn’t a philosophical or existential question. While trying to write this essay, I find myself asking “What exactly am I doing?” The obvious answer would be writing, or struggling to. But as my mind, like an insatiably curious child, started asking an endless stream of “Whys” and “Hows” I became more aware of this act that seems to be taken for granted.
Writing is so ingrained in our human society and our lives that we barely even notice it or care to think about its significance. Yet it would be almost impossible for us to live without it. That is because writing is a physical and visual representation of language; it is a form of communication. Writing is a practical necessity that allows us to connect with each other and share our thoughts, and it is also a means for cultural and artistic expression. Through writing we can pass down and communicate knowledge from one generation to the next, which is a fundamental factor in the progress of human society.
How did it all start? Oral language developed tens of thousands of years ago when our early ancestors began living in communities and the need for coordination and communication arose. Written language, however, was created much later in the cradle of human civilization known as Mesopotamia. The existence of civilization entails the appearance of cities and long-distance trade, and finding a way to communicate over great distance became necessary for humans. As evidenced by discovered pieces of clay with pictographs on them, the traders and merchants of the city-states of Sumer discovered writing to coordinate their trade. As with oral language, written language may have developed out of a practical necessity, and has since proven to be useful and important in our human society.
Even in our contemporary times we still use writing for pragmatic purposes when we want to communicate information to others. We have been doing it for the greater part of our lives, and even something as simple as texting a friend constitutes writing. Texting is an example which shows that through a visual manifestation of language we can communicate with others and overcome the limitations of time and space.
But we don’t communicate through writing for practical reasons alone. We also communicate to share the unique inner workings of our creativity. Literature is a prime example of that. It can reflect our innermost passions, ideas and values as well as those of a particular culture. Through literature, writing is intricately woven into our lives as a form of personal, artistic and cultural expression which has the capacity to change and influence society. We read and analyze written works created hundreds of years ago to observe the impact that they’ve had on societies of different times and places.
Take for example the writings of the ancient Greek poet Homer, the author of the now classic epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey. It does not take an in-depth literary analysis to understand that the cultural values of the ancient Greeks were high reverence to their gods and the divine laws. In both works it is repeatedly shown what befalls those who disrespect and disobey any of the gods. For instance, when King Agamemnon refuses to release the captured Chrysies, the daughter of a priest of Apollo, the sun god descends from Mount Olympus to rain pestilence on the Greek army. It is thanks to writing that these epic poems, formerly passed down through oral tradition, have reached us and allowed us to better understand the society and values of the ancient Greek civilization.
However, there is no rule that an author’s writing should necessarily reflect their culture. There are works of writing that are the personal expression of the author and can serve as critiques of the current societal values and as innovations in literature. Many writers are actually pioneers in this sense, inventing new genres or challenging the status quo. Mary Shelley, at just 19 years of age, had created one of the world’s first science fiction novels, Frankenstein, and pioneered a genre. Emily Brontë, on the other hand, challenged the social norms of her time with Wuthering Heights.
These examples illustrate that writing is not only a means of cultural or self-expression but an act of constant innovation. The authors’ works do not only show the beliefs of their society during those times, but also criticize those beliefs and serve as a push during the transition between time periods. And even today these are relevant and popular works of art which allow us to analyze the values and norms of the past and to see how the ideas of these writers have influenced and changed our world.
These cultural and personal expressions have withstood the test of time and reached all the way to our present day world. It is thanks to the development of writing that we now have a practical way to communicate our thoughts and our creative ideas to each other. And as we saw with the literary examples, communication through writing transcends the boundaries of space and time. Innovations and discoveries that were made hundreds of years ago and far away from us are now within our reach because writing has been an essential factor in the preservation and communication of human knowledge over the centuries.
Writing has been crucial for the accumulation and innovation of human knowledge. By preserving and communicating information over the generations we learn from the discoveries and inventions made in the past and strive to improve upon them to better our world and future. We enjoy the luxuries of today thanks to the pioneering and innovating work of the great minds that came before us. Our world is shaped by the ideas and discoveries of the past which are woven into our society thanks to the development of writing.
As I draw to the end of this essay, I find writing even more fascinating than ever before. In essence, writing is like a river that carries human experience, knowledge and wisdom forward in time, but it also allows us to look back to our past. Thanks to it we have experienced and learned about ideas, sciences and arts which have existed hundreds of years ago and far away from us.
Writing has allowed us to express ourselves and share our beliefs about the world. It has given us the opportunity to gaze upon the reflection of our world, and to strive to make it better than what it was. Right now we stand in the middle of a vast infinity. What the generations of the future will learn about us and our legacy will greatly depend on our writing now.