On Writing, and Who We Are

Lately, I find that words keep getting stuck in my throat. After recovering from a physical sore throat, it seems as though I caught a metaphorical sore throat. Thoughts formulate in my head, ideas swim just within reach, and floating words wait for me to grab and articulate them.

But nothing comes out in speech, which is why I infinitely prefer writing. In writing, we can be the persons we truly want to be. It allows for a more precise transmission of message, one where we are not constrained by the duration of time we are expected to take before making a reply. In a sense, we are allowed to edit and re-edit the representation of our thoughts until they come as close to approximating the abstract concepts and feelings that each of us has.

Writing is an exercise in expressing ourselves – this is a line that is frequently used to describe the activity of writing. Through expression by textual means, we are also allowing ourselves to settle on one narrative, one way of saying things. Writing entails the judgment that comes with finally choosing to present a thought in a certain way; it is a commitment in admitting that these ideas are yours – that you endorse them.

Words define. As a logical consequence of using words, we define. In writing, we allow ourselves to re-examine our choice of vocabulary and the alignment of these words to the nature of our proposal. Only by first setting down a clear definite can we proceed to peruse the appropriateness of the representations – the words – that we use. Or rather, is this what we really mean to say? By confining a mental concept into a precise and distinct entity, a word, we allow ourselves to surface our convictions, articulate our values, and possibly re-examine them. Only by first having a statement can we then start to question.

Writing provides us with a whiteboard on which we can sieve out, condense, and crystallise the pigments of our thoughts. It empowers us to look at ourselves clearly, to introspect, to grow. In the recent Student’s Tea featuring Jonathan Tan, he said, “Sometimes I look back at my writing and cringe”. He spoke of writing as an ever-changing process of self-interpretation, of making sense of ourselves and realising that we have changed over time.

In fact, writing is as much a tool for growth as it is a reflection of growth. Each piece is a recorded piece of history in our life trajectories, reflecting a set of values situated in that time, and perhaps that place. Just like little snippets of a running timeline, or maybe the changing views out of little portholes on a cruising ship, each piece is a quick sample of the state of mind we were once in. And by allowing ourselves access to these charts of changing personal ideologies, we are able to see our own growth – our maturation.

Writing is about as easy as challenging ourselves; it is about as structured as looking for an identity. Perhaps writing is challenging ourselves to look for an identity.

If I read what you write, will I be able to know who you are?