Personal growth is never a seamless project. Rather it’s a hack job we seem to patch together over time.
We are messy people.
She struggled with her weight. Career. Marriage. Emotions. Until she hit rock bottom. And then she started to climb out.
But she’ll admit: she’s still learning. Still growing. Wrestles with life. She hasn’t arrived.
Neither have you. Nor have I.
But there are ways in which we grow. Methods we learn to employ that aid us as we climb out of our own dark pit.
It’s one of those methods I want to share with you right now.
Writing. The world’s oldest and greatest profession. [You’ll see in a minute why I make that statement.]
1. Writing taught me control.
As an idealistic youth control was NOT a part of my vocabulary. I was, in comparison, identical to a dog who chased and lapped up pleasure with abandon.
Who cares if I ate my own vomit?
No surprise then when I tell you stream-of-consciousness poetry was my favorite form of writing. Never mind it didn’t make sense. I was out of control. And having fun.
If you’re over 30, then I don’t need to tell you that won’t last long. Recklessness is a punishment all its own. And it only gets worse as you age.
Self-restraint, on the other hand, is a basic personal growth virtue. Without it you are a ticking time bomb.
In one of my first [but not last] eye-opening lessons on writing, I saw how the beautiful metaphor that purposefully controlling your words on the page translated to real life: if you wanted to lead and influence people with the written word effectively, then you must start with yourself.
You must learn self-leadership.
Keep in mind: persuading and entertaining people is as much about what you DON’T say as it is about what you do say. I’d argue more important.
2. Writing taught me to think clearly.
Like self-restraint, thinking clearly is foundational to growing up. Unfortunately not every one learns how to do it.
Enter me, acute introvert.
Introverts aren’t talkers. Introverts with muddied thoughts are even worse.
We fear saying something stupid because we can’t get our thoughts in order. What’s an argument look like? Do I say this first or that first? What’s the best way to close out a conversation? An argument?
I couldn’t tell you. Not until I learned to write. And write well.
Writing is about systematically saying something clearly, concisely and compellingly. And when you can do it in print, your confidence to say it in person soars. And for anyone who feels trapped by their own voice, that’s sweet freedom.
3. Writing broke my selfishness.
Not entirely true. I will forever be a self-absorbed misfit. But writing–whether a short story, comical news piece or landing page–forces me to think about the reader.
Who is the end-user? And how will he benefit from this?
Can I make it so he will laugh? Cry? Subscribe? Then I need to care about him or her. The same way I care about my wife, children, family and friends.
Writing is a selfless act with little reward. Give generously and expect little in return. The sooner you get that through your head the sooner you’ll enjoy what you do.
4. Writing taught me hope.
They say prostitution is the oldest occupation. If that’s true, then writing is certainly its equal. In regards to rewards, its certainly it’s superior.
Joan Didion said about writing: “It’s the only way I can be aggressive.”
Writing provides a channel to discuss our dreams. To relieve our fear. To control our environment.
That’s our reward. [Not sure you can say the same about prostitution.]
And when we use it to improve someone else’s life, we show them hope. Naturally we see that the world isn’t all that bad. Which brings me to my next point.
5. Writing taught me how to interpret suffering.
We all will suffer in some capacity. That’s what it’s like living in a world with other people. Where people die. Get violent. Think only of themselves.
It’s not all doom and gloom, mind you. Suffering can be a marvelous teacher.
Long story, but I lost two fathers. My biological father I lost to lung cancer. My first step-father I lost to a rock climbing accident. Both times I turned to writing to sift through my feelings.
With my step-father [who died first–my biological parents divorced when I was young], I dove almost immediately into really bad poetry to cope. [Trust me, it was bad.]
With my biological father it took longer. Like five years longer. Can’t explain why. It just did.
But each time I wrestled with what it meant to lose someone close to you. Can’t say the lessons I learned where good ones. But that I was evaluating the experience was important.
And I did it through writing.
The deal is, as noted above, writing helps you think clearly. There’s also a permanency to writing. It’s an act of catharsis. It gets out what’s in your head–which can be healthy or destructive–and either gives it life or kills it.
6. Writing allowed me to create.
Back to prostitution and writing.
I’m sure you can guess which is which, but one takes the other gives. One is an act of destruction. The other an act of creation. One rebels against our initial design the other obeys it.
I’m a fundamental believer in the idea that we were born to create. To subdue the earth. Not for selfish gain. Not to destroy the landscape.
When I say subdue it I mean to produce beauty out of it’s resources. To enhance our naturally creative world. A world we are part of. Which has embedded a desire to create in all of us.
For painters it’s paint. For sculptors it’s marble. For dancers it’s their body. For writers it’s words.
Thriving in this life is about harnessing that ability to create in our own special way. Doing otherwise is a slow death.
7. Writing taught me how to persuade.
I started this post off with the notion of losing control. That was on purpose.
Aimless and reckless people do not live long. They obey Thomas Hobbes dictum to the tee: “war of every man against every man” leads to a life “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
That is the quintessential statement of a fatalist. The pessimist. The greed monger.
Not so for the person who knows control. Who knows restrain. Who gives generously. Who lives wide-eyed. Expectant. Hungry. Hungry to give. To explore. To create. To conquer.
That level of satisfaction only comes, however, when you know what you want. And how to get it. And writing can help you do that.
Learning the tricks of the persuasion trade in print can train you to control what you say. To think clearly. To give generously. To provide hope. Entertainment. To show empathy.
When people know how much you care they care about what you know. And that’s persuasive stuff.
Remember this: Learning to write well doesn’t terminate on you. It terminates on those who need it most. Those who suffer. Who hope. Who beg. Who read.
Without the reader you are nothing.
That’s tough sledding. But it is what it is.
And once you’ve mastered this thing called writing well, do me a favor: please, teach it to someone else. You never know what romantic, self-destructive punk you’ll help get on his feet. 🙂
Which is rewarding in it’s own way.
By the way, how has writing saved your life? Or enabled you to live it better? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Image source: Her Tears Flowed