Most people only write when they have to. Shopping lists, emails. Essential, everyday stuff like that. They don’t do it for pleasure. They don’t do it for sharing. It’s a means of communication, or for jogging the memory.
When someone crosses that line and begins to write as a form of expression, then their relationship with writing changes. I imagine that, for each writer, the relationship is as unique and individual as they are. The journey a writer undertakes, getting to know words, how they fit together, how they convey meaning and all the other vagaries creative writing involves, can be smooth or rough, short or long. Some people have a natural affinity, while others must learn its wayward subtleties the hard way.
One aspect I find fascinating about writing, or more generally about words and language, is its ability to infiltrate that area of the brain we know as the audio-visual cortex. This is the part of our head that processes sound and vision and makes sense of it. It helps us understand the world around us and allows us to relate the things we see and hear to what we already know.
At its most basic level, writing is just letters and words, which in turn are just symbols on a page or, these days, on a screen. Take a mental step back and look at this page. Disengage the mind from what you’re reading. Looking at it without reading, you just see lines and lines of squiggle. Those individual squiggles, be they round or square, long or squat, have profound meanings. Someone, at some point in human history, decided that the round squiggle with a tail would be called ‘a’ and would have the sound ‘a’. Same for all the other sounds a human being could make. By stringing those arbitrary letters together they could spell out the word for things other human beings had already named in a similar, arbitrary, way.
These days we have over 100,000 words which have all been made up, at some point, by someone in our history (and the process is still going on today). Once it’s been taught it, when our amazing human brain sees a word, it can render it into sound and vision, so that we can understand it. Moreover, when strings of those words are put together in a specific order, we not only understand those words, we experience thoughts, feelings and concepts, and can visualise what they convey. Writing can transport our mind to other worlds, give us other ways of thinking, other viewpoints. Words can make us laugh, cry, feel anguish, love. At the very least they put a voice in our head that lets us ‘hear’ the word we’re reading.
Extraordinary, considering all we’re looking at is lines and squiggles.
If nothing else, this demonstrates the power of the written word.
Intriguingly, the original European alphabet was made up of ‘letters’ called Runes, which, as well as being a form of writing, were also considered magical conduits between mankind and the Earth’s natural energies. It’s no accident that putting letters together in the correct order to form a word is called spelling. For the Norse people, writing a word was the original magic ‘spell’, or means to change the world, and the skill to do it was jealously guarded by holy men and the elite. We tap into those spells whenever we write, conjuring thoughts, images, concepts and entire worlds into being within the head of those who read our work. We writers are custodians of an ancient magical system that can literally change the human mind. Pretty cool, eh?