I've mentioned before that I teach writing. At the beginning of each semester, I spend a few days reviewing and updating syllabi. I think about assignments and readings that I might tweak or change entirely. I amp myself up, telling myself that this will be the semester where I reach them all. Repeatedly, I come back to the question, why write?
Famous writers have pondered the question, too. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, William Faulkner said that we write "to help [a person] endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past." Yikes, Bill. Them's some lofty aims. David Mamet: "to lessen the unbearable disparity between the conscious and unconscious mind and so to achieve peace." OK, Dave. Wordy, but slightly more comprehensible.
After I began blogging and reading others' blogs, I noticed that I felt better about everything. Maybe we write to comfort each other.
The reasons for writing are probably limitless. Earlier in the week, while on vacation, I was reading Jonathan Haidt's The Happiness Hypothesis (a great book--though not a quick read--for those interested in the science behind happiness). In it, he refers to Dr. James Pennebaker, who has devoted his life to proving that writing has the ability to improve both emotional and physical health. For 20 years, he has been completing studies in which he asks people to write for 15 minutes a day for four consecutive days about an emotionally painful experience. He then follows these individuals for two and six months, and some for up to 1.4 years. Compared to the control group, they have less depression, fewer doctor visits and physical problems, as well as positive behavioral indicators like increases in grades.
In a sense, the study suggests, the participants write to heal themselves.
What a powerful tool, this writing! Interesting stuff. I just thought I'd share that with you!