Philosophers ask whether a tree falling in a forest makes a sound if no one hears it. A different question is closer to my heart: does writing matter if no one reads it? I must admit to believing in the importance of readers to completion of the art that is writing. Hungry Writers and Smart Readers. Printed words are meant to be read. But likewise songs are meant to be heard, and yet I defy anyone to dispute the value of someone singing her heart out in that lonely forest of falling trees. Would we feel differently if she were writing and left her words behind unread? I want to believe the act of writing still matters, for reasons personal, professional and profound.
Personal. At the simplest level, writing is a form of play. Remembering to Play Pretend. We do it because we love it – at least that’s how it starts. Sometimes we may lose track of that along the way. We need to keep reminding ourselves that writing is a joy. Writing can also help us to make sense of our lives. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron suggests writing daily morning pages as a way to open up pathways from the brain to the page. Whether as journal or fiction, writing provides us with a place to air grievances, share insights, confide worries and express happiness. Putting words to our feelings gives us a sense of release.
Professional. We learn to write by writing. Leading Against Your Strengths. Writing is a muscle that requires use to grow stronger. Failure teaches us, as well as success. And practically speaking, as long as it was yours in the first place, you can always steal from yourself. That minor character you once had to abandon may turn into the protagonist of a brand new piece. With computers, you can easily keep your darlings. You never know what new work your old may inspire.
Profound. Writing fiction is an act of sympathetic imagination. The Poetry in Prose. We take on the perspective of other human beings and look at life through their eyes. We open ourselves up to possibilities that we wouldn’t otherwise face. We extend ourselves outward by sinking deeper inside. Writing as Full Body Experience. Our words may be never be read by someone else, and yet we ourselves are changed. In addition, the effort to capture insight in words is, like other arts, an outward expression of internal vision. An attempt to create something new and unique. A Still Center. With or without an audience, that’s a profoundly spiritual act.
So, does writing matter if no one reads it?
Of course it does.