In an essay in his book, Stranger than Fiction, Chuck Palahniuk outlines two benefits of writing: 1) It can help you make sense, and take ownership, of your own life and 2) it can help you better understand history (which in turn can help you understand how history is shaped).
One of the money lines from the quote below is, “if we’re too lazy to learn history history, maybe we can learn plots. Maybe our sense of ‘been there, done that’ will save us from declaring the next war.” Aside from that, the idea that forcing yourself to unpack ideas and pictures of the world beyond the detail we’re accustomed to thinking about is helpful. Maybe you really should try to imagine what a happy version of yourself would look like (and thereby try to figure out what you’re lacking in the present).
Controlling the story of your past—recording and exhausting it—that skill might allow us to move into the future and write that story. Instead of letting life just happen, we could outline our own personal plot. We’ll learn the craft we’ll need to accept that responsibility. We’ll develop our ability to imagine in finer and finer detail. We can more exactly focus on what we want to accomplish, to attain, to become.
You want to be happy? You want to be at peace? You want to be healthy?
As any good writer would tell you: unpack “happy.” What does it look like? How can you demonstrate happiness on the page—that vague, abstract concept. Show, don’t tell. Show me “happiness.”
In this way, learning to write means learning to look at yourself and the world in extreme close-up. If nothing else, maybe learning how to write will force us to take a closer look at everything, to really see it—if only in order to reproduce it on a page.
Maybe with a little more effort and reflection, you can live the kind of life story a literary agent would want to read.
Or maybe . . . just maybe this whole process is our training wheels toward something bigger. If we can reflect and know our lives, we might stay awake and shape our futures. Our flood of books and movies—of plots and story arcs—they might be mankind’s way to be aware of all our history. Our options. All the ways we’ve tried in the past to fix the world.
We have it all: the time, the technology, the experience, the education, and the disgust.
What if they made a movie about a war and nobody came?
If we’re too lazy to learn history history, maybe we can learn plots. Maybe our sense of “been there, done that” will save us from declaring the next war. If war won’t “play,” then why bother? If war can’t “find an audience.” If we see that war “tanks” after the opening weekend, then no one will green-light another one. Not for a long, long time.
Then, finally, what if some writer comes up with an entirely new story? A new and compelling way to live, before . . .
Sorry, your seven minutes is up.
You can read the entire essay (entitled You Are Here) HERE.