The problem of being a writer is you want to put everything into words. Outside of yourself if possible. This may end up in writing scraps of thoughts into napkins with a blunt pencil overused by the shop owners to record their transactions. Or thanks to the advent of technology you pull up your battered laptop from your ruined green messenger bag and punch keyboard.
That’s why many of us hold journals. I don’t. I can’t feel the urge to record my life every day. I don’t think my life is special, and not every day is an experience you want to tell to others. And even though that paper or the virtual paper the laptop offers you won’t be read by anyone else; the very act of putting words outside of your brain puts you in the reader seat as well as the writer. It needs a reconciliation with the events you have experienced. Some toughening up to see the words which will inevitably make you relive those memories. That’s why I used the word “writer” at the beginning. Even though I believe in Harlan Ellison’s words “You are not a writer, until a writer says you are one”, I think putting those words outside need a certain kind of courage not many of our species possess. And even that is not divided evenly. Some people can march through a battlefield seeing the machine guns fire their ammunition like rain. But unlike that kind of courage, writer’s ability (and courage) to put his thoughts in the paper increases with each act of writing.
And really why the urge to put words outside? Some people spend their whole lives without feeling an iota of urge to do so. I think, and that’s a totally subjective theory which may or may not be wrong, those who write feel a sense of importance while doing so. When you are writing a character, or telling a story, or writing a memoir you are building order from chaos. Life is not story shaped, and you are turning it into one. Even when you are writing a story you don’t build it out of the vacuum. It is an unshaped mess of an idea, and you are giving it structure. And you are evoking memories and feelings which will help the reader to understand you and to imagine with you. That’s the difference between showing and telling. I am telling you at the moment, but if I wanted to show you – for example – where I’m sitting I can begin with this:
It was an old shop, situated inside of an older mosque which countless feets walked through its wide courtyard which is shining with an inner gleam, like all old marbles do. I am smoking a shisha, its sickly, sweetly aroma of blueberries fill my mouth when I inhale and makes me look like an ancient dragon when I give up the white smoke to outside. There are lamps hanging on the ceiling, colorful baubles of light, looking they were inspired from the one thousand and one arabian nights.
Sorry for my crude retelling of where I sit, it is a first draft after all – no polishing or editing done – but in the end you have imagined a place even with this description, not the exact place I’m sitting and enjoying my shisha but you have an approximation of where I sit based on your memories and feelings. And this is the power of showing. When you read Neil Gaiman, Stephen King or R. A. Heinlein, you might not have the exact dreaming the writer had in mind but the end result is fun and informative at the same time. And this is not a passive thing, you and your reader work together in this.
In itself writing is a method of reflection, how you see the world and how you think events will unfold if you are writing a story. It is also an ongoing reflection, sometimes, especially when you are writing a story, you say “No this is not how this character would behave”. Therefore it is a reflection on your memories and a reflection on the character as well. Maybe it is the feeling of reflection which gives us impetus to write – we want to put a meaning to an essentially meaningless experience.
But in the end I think Mario Vargas Llosa had said it the best: “Writers are the exorcists of their own demons”. By reflecting upon them we come to terms with them we are able to empathise with the events or the people we are writing and they cease to be demons of our psyche.