Whether or not you want to be a “writer” you must write.  Inscribed on metal, incised on clay tablets, ink on paper, you must write.  Your life is an historic moment, a unique part of the vast tapestry and your story will be lost if you do not write it down.

To refuse to write is to choose to be forgotten.


Because your thoughts are important and anyone who tells you they are not is an idiot and/or someone trying to make a living by telling you that their thoughts are important.

They are not.

A careful study of history will astound you not because we know so much, but that we surmise so much from so little.

More has been forgotten than we will ever know.

Entire lives have been sucked into the void of time because those who lived them did not record them.  And even in a world where it seems that less and less goes unrecorded I think it’s actually getting worse rather than better.

Virtually nothing that you see here will still exist 100 years from now.  This blog, these web pages, all of these digital dots on digital screens will cease to be.  They will eventually blink out of existence, as obsolete as Geocities, recorded – if at all – in formats that are as inscrutable to future generations as cuneiform is to modern eyes and 5-inch floppies are to modern laptops.

Ironically, the Library of Congress has been given the Twitter archives, so if anything survives; it will not be the substance, but the soundbyte.


I am part of the leading edge of the original digital generation.  We were the first kids who grew up with video games and personal computers, the transformative generation that watched records give way to CD’s give way to MP3’s.  And I’m told that means that mine is the last generation whose primary schooling included computers and penmanship.  Permanence is passé, proving Douglas Adams’ assertion that human beings are unique in both our ability to learn from our past and our unwillingness to do so.

The handwritten notes I am transcribing into this blog have a greater chance of survival than the post they are becoming.  Not because they are beautiful, but because they are physical, tangible, permanent.


I hold the love letters written between my grandfather and grandmother during his time in the Pacific Theater of World War II.  He wasn’t a writer or a poet, he was a dairy farmer.  His words are simple, small and heartfelt.  His penmanship is astonishing.

My grandparents stood in my mind like unassailable giants.  They had survived depressions and wars and come out of it like an indomitable force of nature.  I never fully grasped their humanity until I read the words between a frightened Army sergeant and his bride on the eve of the invasion of the Philippines.  Intellectually, of course, I knew that my grandparents were human beings.  They faced the same doubts and fears (and then some) as I do.  Their world was different and the same.  That soldier felt in 1944 the same deep love for his wife that I do for mine today.

Will my grandchildren get the same effect reading my emails and Facebook statuses and Tweets?  I’d wager that they wouldn’t and that they won’t even get the chance.  But they will know all about my grandpa and grandma if they choose to read them.


Cut & paste with real scissors and real paste.  Write with ink.  Never erase.  The eraser and the delete key are the enemies of history.  Cross things out, draw arrows to show those who follow that this should’ve been up there.

In publishing, it’s the polish that finishes but the manuscript that carries the meaning for future scholars. Neatness counts in schoolwork and business correspondence. In life, it’s the messy bits that count.  So scribble thoughts in the margins of books.  Underline things you like, cross out things you don’t.  Doodle in the margins.

Think about your handwriting, but remember that even the messiest scrawl carries greater beauty than even the best font can hope for.

Write in the vernacular.  Use the words you know and say them the way you want to say them.  Do not use the dictionary, do not look up words, banish the thesaurus from your shelf.  Keep your grammar simple.  Talk about the weather and local events.  Print photographs and date them and record who is in them on the back in indelible ink.


Because societies are created by intellectuals, cultures are created by people.  And both are forgotten if the people don’t care enough to record them.

originally posted at pagestotype.com 


One thought on “Why we write

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