Connecting through Reading and Writing
C.S. Lewis said, “We read to know we are not alone.” Do writers write for the same reason?
If you ask a roomful of people why they read you’ll get a variety of answers, but some will start echoing others. Invariably people will suggest that we read: to learn, to understand ourselves; to understand others, and the world; to know someone else feels as we do; to get in the head of someone completely different from us; to travel to distant places, either geographically or through time; to be entertained; to relax; to escape, to make connections, to find meaning, to feel something deeply, and to experience something vicariously.
The answers to why we write will be similar to why we read, but each writer will also have a personal motivation driving his or her desire to write. Flannery O’Conner said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” Joan Didion said something similar: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”
Many writers want to express themselves, to share what they know, to connect with others, or to entertain or entreat or enlighten. Some writers want to take themselves to places they’ve never been before, and then, following the arc of the hero’s journey, to come back and tell others what they’ve discovered.
Whether reading or writing, many of us are seeking: to understand ourselves and the world around us; to make meaning of our lives and in our lives; to feel something strongly; or to experience other lives and worlds vicariously.
It’s interesting to consider that writers spend days, months, and years in solitude, engaged in a creative vocation in an attempt to create an intimate connection with an unknown reader—someone in the near or distant future, perhaps part of another culture or even time period.
This striving for connection, across time and space, is a driving force in the creative process for many writers.
Writing, at heart, is a form of communication—the broadcast, so to speak. And reading is its reception. And yet both activities are generally done in solitude. We may sit in cafés with a notebook or a novel, but while being in the world we are also in another world. This alone-togetherness is one of the chief pleasures of writers and readers.
When you sit down to write, or to read, remember that you are actually making connections, you are engaged in a form of creative communication—across time and space—and know you are never truly alone.