Personal Musings

Why I Write Every Single Day of My Life

If I don’t write, Houston, we have a problem

I write every single day. I make no apologies for this habit. If I don’t write, I’m what you may refer to as “an ass.” Even worse, if I take an extended period off from writing, my low humming depression (dysthymia) morphs into full blown depression and my generalized anxiety weaves its own fantastic narrative.

Writing and running have parallels for me in this regard. They are essential items in my mental well-being toolkit along with a daily meditation practice. They are my oxygen, my food, my water.

The reasons behind my why

I think about the art of writing as much as I write. Below are the reasons I write every single day of my life.

I. Writing improves your mental health

I’ve sat at my laptop and cried as I’ve typed over the years. This story, “When the Nightmares Began,” produced one of the most emotionally-releasing experiences of my life. I balled my eyes out writing it, and while the title isn’t the happiest title I could have chosen, it was the most appropriate, and if you read until the end, you’ll understand there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

Over 200 research studies to date have shown that writing improves your mental health. This includes trauma, depression, anxiety, and grief et al. Even writing about a negative experience creates a positive due to what researchers perceive as a “freeing up” of cognitive resources in the brain.

When my friend Jeremiah died, I wrote until my fingertips hurt from striking the keys over and over. I didn’t know what to do. I was alone, in Charlottesville — my closest friends from childhood hours away. Robbie called from Richmond and asked if I wanted him to come pick me up. I remember telling him I was going to write and so I did. I’ve followed this pattern many times as I’ve lost loved ones over the years. When the flood of memories hits you, sometimes it’s best to leave the gates wide open.

In times of helplessness, it’s one of the few things that has helped — running being the other. But it’s the lighter times in life where I’ve learned as much about myself. In “This Is Happiness,” I wrote about the day I walked alongside a lake trail with my son and found more than my reflection in the water. I found happiness in the present moment.

II. Writing helps you see the tiny details in life you otherwise overlook

There are days I write about ants. I’m not much a fan of Dave Matthews Band (no knock on the band… just not my cup of tea) — and funny story: Boyd Tinsley, the violinist, grew up where I live and I saw him in Target one day wearing black leather pants looking at synthesizer pianos — but I think of the song “Ants Marching” and how the singer-songwriter was likely sitting somewhere and saw the ants going about their day and thought to himself, “I need to write this down.”

That’s how my brain works. It’s why I write about the creatures that roam about my backyard and inside my house even though others may not find it exciting. I find squirrels magical as one commenter put it. And crows, much maligned throughout history, may be loud but they sure are sweet.

III. You learn about yourself through writing

There’s a saying which has been attributed to many an author over time that goes like this: “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.” Joan Didion supposedly said that. The Flannery O’Connor attribution is: “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”

Regardless of who said it, there’s a truth to this. I’ve written many stories where I thought I was going one place with it to find my destination couldn’t have been more off.

If you have a strong opinion about a subject, try writing about it for at least 1,000 words, setting it aside for a few days, and then re-reading it. Consider what you once learned but may have forgotten which is: where’s the gray area in this? Strong opinions are weakened when multiple angles are considered. We need more of this thinking in our lives.

IV. You learn about others

One of the first interviews I ever conducted as a writer was with an HIV-positive man named Shawn Decker, author of My Pet Virus: The True Story of a Rebel Without a Cure. At age 11 in 1986, he received treatment for hemophilia, a blood disorder he was born with. The supplies used were tainted, and he, in turn, contracted HIV. Within a month after learning of his diagnosis, he was kicked out of school. He was in sixth grade.

Shawn has spent his entire life advocating for HIV awareness, bringing light to a disease that still carries with it stigma present day. As someone who grew up in the 1980s and remembers firsthand the negligent vitriol concerning HIV/AIDS on nightly newscasts, advocacy and education have played a crucial role in the tide turning on this disease. People like Shawn are part of the reason why.

I think about others I’ve interviewed: the homeless, musicians, authors, scientists, athletes, etc. You can learn a great deal about why a person is the way they are by listening. There’s a story there you don’t get when you close yourself off.

This is why I write every day

The truth is I could write a million words on why I write every single day. For me, these are the most important. I know writing is a fickle thing to many. And while I’ll never understand why more people don’t take the time to write, it’ll always be something I encourage. It’s a skill we all learned at a young age in elementary school. It need not be polished and refined.

The greatest storytellers I knew growing up told stories in their distinctive voices, raw and untrained:

  • Troy Childress, never a novelist but could have been a stand-up comedian, would put you in stitches rehashing a tale.
  • My Papa Hamlett, who had a sixth grade education, could scare the ever-loving crap out of you with tales of horror.
  • My cousin Gary and his sidekick in crime Cal Adams, much like Troy, would have your eyes well up with tears of laughter reliving an impromptu donkey ride in a suit and tie following a wedding out in the sticks where we grew up.

I write. Maybe you’re an oral storyteller (even if your audience is family and friends) or a photographer. But we all have this in us in some way, shape, or form.

P.S. If you haven’t read my last post and provided feedback yet, check it out here.

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