Why Writing Matters to Everyone

Career

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jotham.lim

Is long-form writing dead?

Part of me believes it is—mainly because other forms of content out there are more interesting and have a larger audience. Why write for a “stagnant” industry when people are just not incentivised to read as much anymore?

Crack open a magazine or newspaper and you’re visually assaulted with walls of text. Films, YouTube videos, Reddit posts, and TikTok are just more engaging, dense, and cognitively easier to go through. Contrast this with millions of shallow, GPT-generated articles being churned out daily; or complex books that require you to re-read the same content several times to comprehend. Even online news publications leverage clickbaity titles and striking images to pull you in, all while journalism is pivoting towards video formats.

When’s the last time you wrote an essay-length piece? My marketing teammates would rather create designs, shoot videos, set up PowerPoint decks (and record audiobooks, surprisingly) than writing long-form content—and who could blame them?

Writing conjures memories of hour-long homework sessions, thesis work, and an absurd amount of attention being paid to “v o c a b u l a r y”, “g r a m m a r”, and “f o r m a t t i n g”.

In the workplace, writing reminds me of boring technical documentation or angry emails obscured under a professional tone. For many, writing has become so unpleasant that you try to avoid it as best as you can. Writing for yourself wasn’t considered an option.

And yet, I still can’t bring myself to dislike writing. I’ve set up and abandoned blogging close to ten times now, and kept crawling back. This is unlike my other hobbies where I truly forsaken them, never touching them ever again.

So why can’t I give up on writing, and why should you write for yourself?

Writing Helps You Think

Writing is hard by design.

Have you written and rewritten the same paragraph over and over again? Chances are, it’s not that you’re a poor writer. I’m sure that most of us already have the correct grammar and vocabulary skills drilled into us since young. You can’t go wrong with writing using simple and straightforward language. Even then, there are A.I. tools that can help us fix that.

Chances are, being stuck in-between paragraphs has more to do with the jumbled mess of thoughts in your head and your struggling to formulate them in a coherent way. If you’re not happy with the piece of writing, it’s most likely because your words do not accurately reflect your thoughts—regardless of whether it’s grammatically correct or not.

Prior to writing, abstract ideas are just loosely connected thoughts floating around in your soup of consciousness. They only make sense to you and you alone, because these connections are built on top of your unique experiences and knowledge accumulated throughout your lifetime.

You bring forth these connections when, for example, you’re having a conversation with a friend.

Whether you’re sharing a personal story or debating about politics, you are acknowledging the existence of these connections while testing their validity on the fly. Sometimes your argument is weak, or you’ve sprinkled in some white lies to spice up your story a bit—but it’s okay! Friends can be quite understanding and forgiving, even after seeing through your bullshit.

Writing functions exactly the same way. You are forced to structure your beliefs in your head and manifest them into words on paper or on the screen.

Writing is having a conversation with ourselves. But unlike a friendly conversation, we can’t really bullshit ourselves. When putting thoughts onto paper, you will find holes within our arguments. You start noticing flaws.

You’re no longer writing for yourself or others but a ruthless imaginary reader who does not tolerate boring content, weak arguments, or childish writing. The critics in our minds are always harsher than in real life.

Perhaps this is classroom-based trauma inflicted upon us by our English teachers. Perhaps this is the high standards we’ve set ourselves. That, I believe, is the source of fear and anxiety stemming from our writing. Which leads to:

Writing Helps Us Figure Out Who We Are, and What We Believe In

If we are writing for an imaginary critic by bringing manifesting ideas from the deep recesses of our mind—our writing becomes a reflection of our belief system.

We then become very careful with what beliefs we want to associate ourselves with. When writing a statement, we pause and start realising that there’s a lot of nuances, caveats, and evidence against the contrary. You formulate questions about your own identity, your relationship with the world and each other, or your political and religious beliefs.

You are shoved down a rabbit hole you’re not ready to jump in yet.

Beliefs no longer become a binary problem, and you realise the breadth of approaches in perceiving the same topic. A one-dimensional topic becomes a spectrum, which then becomes a 2D plane, which becomes a multi-dimensional issue.

It is horrifying for some people—to realise that whatever they believe in could be untrue. Many people need some kind of truth to ground themselves to. If it falls apart, perhaps their life until that point is just a lie?

That’s one way to look at it. It could also mean that the world is interesting, multi-faceted, and more colourful than we initially thought. Why stand firm in your beliefs on solid ground when you can frolic through different terrains with sand, gravel, grass and water running through your intellectual toes?

I can be anti-abortion one day and be pro-abortion the next—depending on what facts I’ve learnt that day and whichever argument is more sound. You’re not a crazy person for shifting stances. It’s okay to be wrong, and being right isn’t that great either. The point here is not whatever you believe in, but how you arrive there in the first place—and writing for yourself helps you through that process.

So go ahead and publish something you “assume” to be immature, confusing, or insignificant. Because at the end of the day, there will be pushback no matter which side you stand on. More importantly, in the end, nobody really cares about your writing more than yourself.

If you are worried that your writing is cementing your beliefs, remember that there’s a timestamp for your published work. Your writing is a reflection of the person you are and what you value, at that point in time.

And you, as a person, are fluid, so there’s no need to hold on to the illusion of permanence of your writing. Our writing is impermanent the same way our cringe Facebook posts during our teenage years are not the reflection of who you are today.

It’s just like those “1 selfie a day” time-lapse videos online. Rather than just photos, your writing is a record of who you really are, stripped away from your exterior shell and left with just raw personality. Reading your old writing is embarrassing, enlightening, hilarious—but most of all, fulfilling, knowing that you have changed so much throughout the years.

So in certain ways, all of our writing is viable. It may not be factual, and there is a difference between these two. We shouldn’t spread misinformation, and we should be accountable for factual errors we’ve made. But our opinions, concerns, and beliefs—ones that are fluid and subjective, are still valid and nobody can take away from that, purely because you genuinely believe it.

Closing Thoughts

Re-reading this article, there’ are not a whole lot of practical reasons you should continue writing beyond “self-discovery”.

It may not seem like much, but I genuinely believe that this is fundamentally important to the human condition. It’s also the reason although tools like ChatGPT exist, they can’t totally replace serious writing. It’s the reason I still write, despite knowing that nobody is going to take my work seriously.

Read more: Will ChatGPT Replace Writers?

If you’ve written an article of your own after reading this one, please do share a link in the comments! I would love to read your work and encourage you to keep producing more.

Keep on writing for the imaginary critic.

Cheers,

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