What is writing?

A three-word question - to which there must be a simple answer, yes?

There seem to be more authors out there now, everyone seems to be writing. There are genres whose names didn't exist 25 years ago (Steam Punk, Space Opera etc.) let alone new ways of disseminating books e.g. e-books.

Rather like 21st-century life, the surface and periphery of things appear to be changing quickly, but when you look at the core - nothing has changed for thousands of years. Example: the human body and its systems (motions, emotions, mentality etc.) are pretty much the same as they were ten thousand years ago. Literary example: a novel is written in a language with words made up of letters of the alphabet which have also been around for several thousand years.

Back to the question - what is writing? Well, here's a first stab at it - a human process that results in written words. Since we're focusing on literary produce, this definition would include inventories and
legal documents, so it's too general.

The English Club - "Writing" is the process of using symbols (letters of the alphabet, punctuation and spaces) to communicate thoughts and ideas in a readable form.

To limit the huge scope of this question, we're going to focus on creative writing where the words form a coherent and occasionally entertaining whole which we loosely call a story.

So what makes writing creative? Is it because it's new, original, created out of nothing? Created out of nothing is referred to in the Latin phrase creation ex nihilo, which is applied to the creation of the universe by divine will. This quickly takes us to some religious considerations e.g. "By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible."

God, the universe, creation by the word - the scope of this question seems to have got a whole lot bigger. What's helpful in this is the notion that the 'seen' comes from (and returns to) the 'unseen'. If that's the case, then words and their creation come from something unseen. How's that possible? Don't we just write what comes into our heads? How conscious is the choice or decision-making in what we write about? Isn't creativity a matter of self-will in that if we want to write something, we can?

If creativity is a matter of self-will, how can we write of things of which we have no direct experience, that come from our imagination? It's true some stories are autobiographical yet others are not and would appear to be the result of a 'connection' to something outside ourselves and our stored experiences, beyond the ken as it were. Examples are fantasy stories involving characters and worlds that have never or could never exist. Where do the ideas for these come from? What is imagination? More big questions.

How about this one? Do all stories pre-exist in a massive store of all possible stories? No, that seems unlikely. So are there ingredients or elements of stories that an author connects to using the power of his or her imagination? If that's the case, we move from the notion of 'who writes the book' to 'what writes the book'

Example: The author James Clavell wrote Shogun and other Japanese-based novels in the 60's and 70's. He'd been incarcerated in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in the Second World War where he'd suffered brutality and cruelty. His novels could be seen as a therapeutic working-out of the trauma of that experience and therefore as autobiographical in origin, but original in composition, narrative and character.

So we move from the notion of 'It's the author that writes the book,' to 'It's what was out of balance in the author that writes the book' - at least in the case of James Clavell. Interestingly, this definition endorses the notion of writing as cathartic therapy and as a means of self-mental and emotional healing.

It also endorses the notion of writing as a connective media through which stories that want to be told can find their way into the human psyche. Could that be possible? Are there intelligent entities that influence our zeitgeist, the spirit of our times?

So writing is the result of what is out of balance in the author. Is that right? You tell me.

Justin Newland
March 2016