A proper way of thinking about writing is that it is equivalent to sacrifice.
I’ve written about this before, though not in this space. I think it’s been over a year, but the understanding that I have has developed and formed up in ways that are distinct from the way I formerly understood them.
It’s important for a moment to say what I mean when I say sacrifice.
I do not mean sacrifice in the sense of suffering. For some people there may be agony in writing, but this is not universal, and it certainly is not my experience with writing.
Rather, there’s something like devotion to the universe inherent in writing, at least when one is writing honestly and with conviction. Writing as a strictly functional tool may fall short, but I’m not even sure I could identify an example of this.
(Your) Writing as (a) Sacrifice
One way to think of this is that each piece of writing winds up at an altar.
When I first thought of this metaphor, I thought in terms of publication, but as I’ve developed and grown as a writer I think that’s not always the case.
The mere act of creating something puts it into balance against all other things.
When you write, you bring words from potential into being, and from mere being into permanence.
Even if they are merely outside you in the sense that they exist on a hard drive or a scrap of notepaper, they are in the world.
While a text is unwritten, it exists solely in the mind. It is a construct of the ego, a sliver of consciousness. There is a power to speaking it, but there is also an impermanence to it. If not recorded, we leave spoken words to the fickleness of memory. Even if recorded, there is a distinction between speech and carefully considered speech, because we rarely say what we really mean to say in its perfection.
This is not to presume that written words always match their authors’ intent. However, they become divorced from their writer in a way that words are insoluble from their speakers. When you read, you do not need a conception of the person whose text you are reading. You may be familiar with them, but even then the words on the page are presented by the page, not the author.
The act of giving the words to the page is a sacrifice.
It puts them into the world and out of the writer’s care.
In the end, this is an act of embracing danger. Things which are in the world are subject to the world. It is possible to burn them. It is possible to lose them.
Writing as Sacrifice of Self
Another element of this sacrifice is the loss of self. I do not mean that writers are less than whole people.
But interaction with the word changes a person. They seek to communicate and convey information. This requires an approach based on the consensus of words.
And, even if a writer were to use an imagined language, they would follow rules set in stone. It is not relevant to this point that languages change over time, because it is the fragment of language in time and space known to the writer that matters.
This encounter with an element outside oneself requires a sacrifice. It is the act of constraining ideas to words. This is an approximation of consciousness, and something which demands much of people.
We do not think of language as a constraint, of course. It is a tool, and our most valuable one. It is one of few things that we call, without reservation, the human domain.
Writing requires constraint. It is the sublimation of something from the ego to something of matter, of spirit to earth. The ancients knew this distinction.Writing requires constraint. It is the sublimation of something from the ego to something of matter, of spirit to earth. The ancients knew this distinction. Click To Tweet
They knew that there is something deeper than us within ourselves, and individual subconscious. They knew that there is us, our conscious selves, represented in individuals. They knew that there are things greater than us.
These are society, nature, the universe, God. They are structures we inhabit but which we did not build. We may be, in a true though not literal sense, oblivious to these structures because their magnitude exceeds ours.
We see the world that surrounds us only dimly, and we are at the peak. Above us and below us lie mysteries. What we see on the mountain top is not even complete. It is what we know to look for.
Writing is an attempt to stretch outward into mysteries, even if only in the realm of language.
Writing as Sacrifice to the Judge
One way of thinking about the world is that it is a judge. Our actions meet reactions.
Writing evokes a response. Disinterest is itself a reaction, not neutrality. The very concept of neutrality is at odds with reality itself; it is evasion or it is irrelevance.
When someone writes they meet judgment. At the least, the words they put on the page are subject to their own reaction. When they submit them to others’ scrutiny, they are subject to the reaction of their audience.
This is a way of sacrificing for future gain.
Every reaction can provide information, if we are wise enough to look for it.
The secret here is to embrace the reaction. It is necessary, and it will happen. There is no way around it.
Only when the confrontation between a text and the world becomes subject to observation can it yield fruit.
One thing that I have learned over the last several years is that sacrifice is valuable.
It is a way of figuring out what our role in the world is, because that is unclear and human capacities are limited.
It is also a way to truth, because the action and reaction process filters out untruth.
Writing strikes me as one of the best ways to interact with this process.