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Is There A Point to Writing Anymore? Does It Advance the Human Race?

February 8, 2010

I don’t plan on becoming an engineer, a doctor, a politician. I plan on becoming a writer. And sometimes I wonder, after all the money and education that’s been invested in me, whether I’m doing the human race a disservice by not taking advantage of my good fortune in order to change and help the world. Sure books mold minds, but haven’t enough been published? Couldn’t I read for all of my life and still never get through 5% of all the great works of literature? So I ask myself, why add another to the list?

And maybe I’m over exaggerating. Of course new books are published that address our current needs and current issues–think Middlesex and its approach with transgenders, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and its unique perspective on Latino-Americans, the countless number of books exploring current issues that sometimes classics can’t touch: abortion, homosexuality, sexuality, race conflict, culture clashes (most recently Middle Eastern and Asian vs. Western), social media, etc.

But why my book? Why most people’s books? If books are being written in record numbers, and if we’re in “a cultural moment where an abnormally high percentage of the population is either writing or thinking about writing a novel,” (via NathanBransford) shouldn’t the money be saved for the true gems, or shouldn’t all those writers utilize all their smarts and intelligentsia in a ‘better’ way, actually saving the world instead of writing about saving the world? When does the act of writing stop being a didactic tool, an instructional form of entertainment, and start morphing into a waste of time, money, and talent? No one’s asking to kick Hemmingway off his writer’s stool, but maybe Mr. Chabon and a host of other contemporaries could have been revolutionaries.

As I sit in my history class on South Asia, my teacher tells us how she hopes that if and when we enter into positions of power, when the helm is finally passed onto our generation, then we will use what we learned for good, and we will all affect the world in our own small way. And here I am, a writer, not even planning on writing nonfiction, not planning on writing about economic crisis or dystopic worlds a la Orwell but simply planning to write about relationships and daily life and things that seem to have no global importance. And yet I keep writing–because I have to, I need to. Does that make me selfish? Are all writers selfish?

But let me cut myself off there. I want to continue on the idea of whether writing is selfish in my next post (I’ll tip my hat to a certain anonymous friend for talking over this idea with me the other night), but let me hear what you have to say. Does writing help the world? Is talent wasted when an educated individual chooses to become a writer instead of entering some other profession? Discuss!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Stacie permalink
    February 15, 2010 10:57 am

    But if you’re passionate about writing, doesn’t that mean something? If everyone stopped writing after Shakespeare you might have plenty of books to read but nothing relevant to the world. Every person has their own story, and if they want to tell it then that’s not a waste.

    • February 15, 2010 11:10 am

      That was a great response. It certainly relieves me of a lot of my guilt. I just have the selfish hope and desire that one day my writing can mean something, can be a story that affects someone. I’m not asking for originality mind you, to write a story that no one’s ever done before, because that’s almost asking the impossible, just something that embodies my passion.

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