Natalie Goldberg on Why We Should Write & the Importance of Specificity

In her liberating, life-changing Writing Down the Bones, Zen Buddhist and writing teacher
Natalie Goldberg argues specificity is the cornerstone of great writing.  In the modern age where most of us are transfixed by the hypnotic blue light of our phones, we float around like disembodied ghosts.  We have lost the sights and sounds, the tastes and textures of the physical realm.  The writer’s job is to restore to the reader some part of his sensual world.

Writing, especially fiction, is meant to transport us somewhere else: a lost submarine in the deep ocean, an imperial English ship searching for treasure along the South American coast.  As writers, we cast a spell, lulling our readers into a trance where they momentarily suspend their disbelief and imagine they’re occupying an alternate world.  The only way to do this is through concrete detail.  We must avoid the vague, the abstract, the general.  When we write with specificity, we cut through confusion and create clarity.  Specificityto paraphrase one of my writing teachers takes you from a roughly rendered sketch to a nicely detailed painting.

Take this example:

The woman walked. 

3 words.  A simple noun.  A simple verb.  Though it contains the basic structural units of a sentence, it fails to paint an evocative picture.  Let’s try adding some detail.

The daisy-crowned woman strolled through the meadow.  

The fur-donned woman charged along Park Avenue.

The frazzled woman, her dress covered in day-old baby food, struggled to push her two toddlers.

Specificity allows us to see more clearly.  In the first example, words like “woman” and “walked” are too generic to conjure images in a reader’s mind.  They create a bare-bones outline: there’s no color, no dimension, no shadow.  The woman is a mobster’s wife or a traveling circus clown for all we know.

But the latter examples bring to mind a specific character: a romantic woman meandering through the English countryside, a hurried New Yorker who wears Manolo Blahnik’s and shops at Bergdorf’s, an exhausted mother.  Specificity is like a pair of glasses: it brings the fuzziness of the world into sharper focus. 

Much like poet of politics Rebecca Solnit, who urged us to call things by their true names, Goldberg suggests we dedicate the time to finding the exact words for things:

“Be specific.  Don’t say ‘fruit.  Tell what kind of fruit— ‘It is pomegranate.’  Give things the dignity of their names.  Just as with human beings, it is rude to say, ‘Hey, girl, get in line.’  That girl has a name.  (As a matter of fact, if she’s at least twenty years old, she’s a woman, not a ‘girl’ at all.)  Things, too, have names.  It is much better to sat ‘the geranium in the window’ than ‘the flower in the window.’  ‘Geranium’— that one word gives us a much more specific picture.  It penetrates more deeply into the beingness of that flower.  It immediately gives us the scene by the window— red petals, green circular leaves, all straining toward sunlight.”’

Rather than get lost in the airy world of abstractions, writers should focus on what’s directly in front of them.  If you’re writing a poem about love, you wouldn’t fill your verse with intangible concepts like “passion” and “infatuation” and “lust”— you’d want to replace rough approximations with exact images: amorous glances, frenzied cherry-coated kisses, the lingering smell of musk.  Similarly, if want to capture the essence of an August day, avoid indefinite ideas and instead focus on what can be apprehended with your senses: the sultry summer heat, the cloudless sky, the smell of sun tan cream.

So before you write, ask yourself: what can you see with your eyes?  taste on your tongue?  touch with your toes?  William Carlos Williams put it simply, “Write what’s in front of your nose.”  For Goldberg, a devout practitioner of  Zen Buddhism, writing requires we fully immerse ourselves in what’s here and now:

“Study what is ‘in front of your nose.’  By saying ‘geranium’ instead of ‘flower,’ you are penetrating more deeply into the present and being there.  The closer we can get to what’s in front of our nose, the more it can teach us everything.”

In many ways, modern life is antithetical to art.  Much of our day is a whirlwind of speed and distraction, high-speed internet and 30 second TikToks.  We’re almost never completely present.  We hurtle from home to work to school, between the infinite tabs on our laptops and the inescapable ding! ding! ding! of text messages. 

But art demands we examine something with our full attention; it requires we look at one thing longer than we ever have before (As Georgia O’ Keefe once said, “Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small.  We have’t time and to see takes time like to have a friend takes time.”)  The artist is a monk in a monastery: completely absorbed.  When we create with complete concentration, we enter a blissful state where we both lose ourselves and find ourselves, what taoists called “wu wei” and what positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi termed “flow“:

“You must become one with the details in love or hate; they become one extension of your body.  Nabokov says, ‘Caress the divine details.’  He doesn’t say, ‘Jostle them in place or bang them around.’  Caress them, touch them tenderly.  Care about what is around you.  Let your whole body touch the river you are writing about, so if you call it yellow or stupid or slow, all of you is feeling it.  There should be no separate you when you are deeply engaged.  Katagiri Roshi said: ‘When you do zazen [sitting meditation], you should be gone.  So zazen does zazen.’  This is also how you should be when you write: writing does writing.  You disappear: you are simply recording the thoughts that are streaming through you.”

“When people talk listen completely.  Don’t be thinking what you’re going to say…You should be able to go into a room and when you come out know everything that you saw there and not only that.  If that room gave you any feeling you should know exactly what it was that gave you that feeling…and always think of other people,” advised Ernest Hemingway.  With similar simplicity, Goldberg recommends would-be writers:

“Learn the names of everything: birds, cheese, tractors, cars, buildings.”

But why bother committing our commonplace experience to paper?  For Goldberg, writing is a revolutionary act of love, a means of planting a flag into the ground and declaring “this matters/I matter/we matter”:

“Our lives are at once ordinary and mythical.  We live and die, age beautifully or full of wrinkles.  We wake in the morning, buy yellow cheese, and hope we have enough money to pay for it.  At the same instant we have these magnificent hearts that pump through all sorrow and all winters we are alive on the earth.  We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded.  This is how writers must think, this is how we must sit down with pen in hand.  We were here; we are human beings; this is how we lived.  Let it be known, the earth passed before us.  Our details are important.  Otherwise, if they are not, we can drop a bomb and it doesn’t matter.”  

Ultimately, writing is a way of shouting an affirmative “yes” to life.  Much like a Buddhist monk, the writer’s task is simply to observe the truth of the moment without judgement.  As Goldberg writes, 

“Recording the details of our lives is a stance against bombs with their mass ability to kill, against too much speed and efficiency.  A writer must say yes to life, to all of life: the water glasses, the Kemp’s half-and-half, the ketchup on the counter.  It is not a writer’s task to say, ‘It is dumb to live in a small town or to eat in a cafe when you can eat macrobiotic at home.’  Our task is to say a holy yes to the real things of our life as they exist— the real truth of who we are: several pounds overweight, the gray, cold street outside, the Christmas tinsel in the showcase, the Jewish writer in the orange booth across from her blond friend who has black children.  We must become writers who accept things as they are, come to love the details, and step forward with a yes on our lips so there can be no more noes in the world, noes that invalidate life and stop these details from continuing.” 

What is a writer?  Susan Sontag defined a writer as “someone who pays attention to the world— a writer is a professional observer.”  Goldberg would add that writers are chroniclers of our collective history and stewards of all of life’s lovely little details:  

“This is what it is to be a writer: to be the carrier of details that make up history, to care about orange booths in the coffee shop in Ottawa.”

“On paper our greatest challenges become A Real Thing, in a world in which so much seems ephemeral and transitory,” Anna Quindlen observes in Write for Your Life, her passionate plea for ordinary people to start writing.  Naming things— the smell of garlic and oregano in our favorite Italian restaurant, the black-and-white checkered floor of our first apartment building— grounds us in the present; it brings a sense of solidness to the ever-shifting fluidity of our experience.  Life rushes like a river.  Ultimately, putting our experiences into words keeps us from getting swept under:

“When we know the name of something, it brings us closer to the ground.  It takes the blur out of the mind; it connects us to the earth.”

Susan Sontag on the Bliss of Having Written & the Inextricable Connection Between Reading & Writing

What’s the secret to being a good writer?  Aspiring wordsmiths often think the answer is shrouded in mystery.  New Yorker staff writers and Pulitzer-prize winning novelists— they think— might possess this arcane knowledge but they keep it locked away like a buried treasure in a cave.  To access it, you have to know the magic words open sesame.  

But being a good writer is actually quite simple: you have to read.  

“Read a thousand books and your words will flow like a river,” Virginia Woolf wrote as she contemplated the inseparable connection between reading and writing.  Ray Bradbury urged aspiring artists to devour as much material as possible: “If you stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays, stories, novels, films, comic strips, magazines, music, you automatically explode every morning like Old Faithful.  I have never had a dry spell in my life mainly because I feed myself well, to the point of bursting” (Mr. Bradbury must be on to something…he wrote more than 30 books and nearly 600 short stories).  Stephen King put it more simply, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”

Towering intellect and titan of criticism Susan Sontag would have to agree.  In her distinctively discerning essay “Directions: Write, Read, Rewrite, Repeat Steps 2 and 3 as Needed,” one of many thought-provoking pieces in the New York Times Writers on WritingSontag makes the convincing argument that you can’t write unless you read.  We usually think of the writing process as a series of predictable steps we learned in 3rd grade: brainstorm, outline, draft, revise, edit.  However, this formula neglects a fundamental stage: reading.  Reading is integral to revising: we must first become master readers before we can assess what’s working and what’s not working in our own writing.  As Sontag writes with characteristic acuity: 

“…to write is to practice, with particular intensity and attentiveness, the art of reading.  You write in order to read what you’ve written and see if it’s OK and, since of course it never is, to rewrite it— once, twice, as many times as it takes to get it to be something you can bear to reread…Hard to imagine writing without rereading.”  

Every week in my writing workshop class, we have to critique our classmates.  At first, I resented the exercise: helping others revise their work kept me from my own writing (after all, I only have so many hours in a day).  But now I realize that assessing others sharpens my critical faculties.  If I can comprehend why another person’s story isn’t working (their central message is unclear, their characters are cardboard cutouts instead of three-dimensional people, their writing is clunky), I can apply those lessons to my own writing.  In the same way, when one of my classmate’s stories is working, it inspires me.  Nothing rekindles my creative fire quite like encountering an evocative bit of imagery or a sharp turn-of-phrase.  

Ultimately, reading ignites writing.  Reading a good book can electrify us with an ecstatic lightening bolt of inspiration and send our fingers flying.  But if we read too much, we might compare our not-yet-developed first drafts to the masterpieces of literary giants and find ourselves wanting.  No writer is safe from the torture chamber of comparison.  Though Virginia Woolf was certainly a genius in her own right, she found herself overcome by crippling writer’s block any time she read Marcel Proust.  “Proust so titillates my own desire for expression that I can hardly set out a sentence,” she wrote in 1922.

In an incisive passage, Sontag captures this complex relationship between reading and writing:

“Reading usually precedes writing.  And the impulse to write is almost always fired by reading.  Reading, the love of reading, is what makes you dream of becoming a writer.  And long after you’ve become a writer, reading books others write— and rereading the beloved books of the past— constitutes an irresistible distraction from writing.  Distraction.  Consolation.  Torment.  And, yes, inspiration.”

“I hate writing, I love having written,” lady of wisecracks Dorothy Parker famously quipped.  You’d be hard pressed to find a writer who didn’t agree with this sentiment.  The act of writing is often agony and anguish.  There’s nothing more formidable than facing the blank page’s daunting nothingness.

But if writing is torment, revision is bliss.  The first stages of writing are like the first stages of gardening.  There’s a lot of difficult decisions, not to mention drudgery: you have to choose the proper plot of land and the kinds of flowers you want to grow, you have to till the soil.  But once your seeds are planted and begin to bloom, most of your work is maintenance: you water, you pull weeds, you prune.

Once you have a first draft, you’ve arranged your thoughts into some sort of logical order.  You’ve accomplished the most difficult task: assembling your ideas into a coherent form so they can be transported into someone else’s consciousness.

“Having written” is the less laborious, more fun part of the writing process.  Once you’ve overcome the paralysis of beginning and gotten something, anything, down on the page, you can commit yourself to the more pleasurable work of revising.  Revising is weeding out unnecessary repetition and awkward phrasing, cutting away overgrown bushes of syntax so your reader can more readily understand your thinking.  Revising is replacing recycled ideas and commonplace cliches with fresh turns-of-phrase.  It’s replacing close-but-not-quite-right-words with more precise words that exactly convey your meaning.  Refining your work is endlessly satisfying.  As Sontag writes, 

“…though this, the rewriting— and the rereading— sound like effort, they are actually the most pleasurable parts of writing.  Sometimes the only pleasurable parts.  Setting out to write, if you have the idea of ‘literature’ in your head, is formidable, intimidating.  A plunge in an icy lake.  Then comes the warm part: when you already have something to work with, upgrade.


Let’s say, it’s a mess.  But you have a chance to fix it.  You try to be clearer.  Or deeper.  Or more eloquent.  Or more eccentric.  You try to be true to the world.  You want the book to be more spacious, more authoritative…As the statue is entombed in the block of marble, the novel is inside your head.  You try to liberate it.  You try to get this wretched stuff on the page closer to what you think your book should be— what you know, in your spasms of elation, it can be.”

Gish Jen on the False Dichotomy Between Life & Work

“Want to get a coffee?” my sister asked after I had just settled in at my desk.  It’s inevitable: the moment I finally get into the flow of writing, something interrupts.  An offer to get a coffee, a phone call, an invitation out.  

“Should I go?” I wondered to myself.  I wanted to focus on my work.  After 45 torturous minutes of writing and rewriting sentences, I had finally found a rhythm.  But did I really want to pass up an opportunity to get a cold brew with my sister?

If you’re a writer, you understand this unbearable tug-of-war between life and work.  On one hand, you want to RSVP a resounding “no” to every invitation out.  You’d much rather work on your novel than go to a pool party or out for brunch.  In many ways, you resent life itself: the million and one daily occurrences that intrude upon your work.  You despise the demanding ring of the telephone, the incessant irritating ding-ding-ding sound of mail in your inbox.  You harbor borderline irrational resentment for any errand that forces you out of your house.  For the writer, Dante’s nine circles of hell is taking your car to the mechanic or waiting on hold to talk to a representative at AT&T about your phone bill.

On mornings like this one, I entertain fantasies of abandoning my real life and retreating to a secluded cabin in Big Sur.  Among the quiet hush of redwoods, far from the commotion of city life, from the distractions of technology, from the infuriating interruptions of other people, I could finally get down to work.

But other times, I resent having to choose between life and work.  Every minute I spend in my fictional world is a minute I’m not spending in the real one.  If I choose to spend my afternoon rearranging words on a page, I’m not exchanging intimacies with my husband or seeing my brother for his birthday.

In her essay “Inventing Life Steals Time, Living Life Begs It Back,” one of many insightful pieces in Writers on Writing, Gish Jen explores this seemingly irreconcilable conflict between life and work.  Despite her success as a writer, Jen almost quits.  “Is writing worth it?” she wonders. Is it worth it to live on the page but not in real life?  Mired in existential crisis, she writes, 

“Last year I almost quit writing.  I almost quit even though I was working well, even though I remained fascinated by the process of writing— the endless surprise of the sentences, and the satisfaction of thoughts taking form.  I had a new book I wanted to write, the book I am now writing, which I knew to be a good project.  I knew, what’s more, that I was not written out, something for which I have perhaps morbidly always watched: I have long vowed not to keep on past the point where I ought best to stop.  

I was not there yet.  Still, I almost quit because I felt the writing life was not life, because I felt I was writing instead of living.”

Ultimately, writers are caught between worlds: the real one they inhabit and the imaginary one they construct.  As Jen observes,

“There is never enough time for writing; it is a parallel universe where the days, inconveniently, are also twenty-four hours long.  Every moment spent in one’s real life is a moment missed in one’s writing life, and vice versa.”

For the writer, writing and not writing are equally excruciating forms of torture.  When you’re writing, you’re wondering whether it’s any good, you’re comparing yourself to other writers.  Your day consists of trying to wrangle your wild, untamed thoughts into a comprehensible order.  You might labor over a single sentence for more than an hour.

But not writing is just as much torture.  Not writing is wishing you could be writing, it’s being physically present but mentally elsewhere.  You might be at a dinner date with your boyfriend, but you’re actually in your short story, wondering how to propel the plot further.

Jen intimately understands the agony of the writer’s life.  In a passage of emphatic anaphora, she writes,  

“To write is to understand why Keats writes of living ‘under an everlasting restraint, never relieved except when I am composing.’  It is to recognize Kafka’s longing to be locked in the innermost room of a basement, with food anonymously left for him.  It is to know why Alice Munro describes the face of the artist as unfriendly; and it is to envy Philip Roth, who, rumor has it, has sequestered himself in a cabin in the Berkshires.  He is writing, writing, people say, writing without distractions, only writing.  To which the news part of us asks: Is that a life?  Can you really call that a life?”

To write is to enter a Faustian bargain of sorts.  We might not sell our souls to be writers, but we exchange invaluable moments with our loved ones for more time at our keyboards:

“Writing competes with…life and shortens its run.  I struggle not to hurry my time with my children; I endeavor to lose myself with them even as I squeeze every last minute out of the rest of the day.  I calculate; I weigh; I optimize.  That I may lose myself again in my work, I map out the day, the route, the menu.  I duck, I duck.  I hoard the hours and despair in traffic jams.  Worse, I keep an eye on my involvements.  I give myself freely to others, but only so freely.  I wonder if writing is worth this last price in particular.”

Is writing worth the sacrifice?  For Jen, the answer is “no.”  Writing— she feels— has become a jealous, too possessive lover.  Determined to live again, Jen puts down her pen and spends her newfound freedom gardening and making up for lost time with loved ones.  

But after awhile, Jen misses her old paramour.  Writing had been a way of ordering the shattered fragments of her life into a coherent whole. Without writing, life didn’t feel worth living anymore:

“Yet I found life without work strangely lifeless.  I wish I could claim that I went back to work because I had an exceptional contribution to make to the world, or because I found the words to dress down Old Man Death; but in fact I went back because life without prose was prosaic.  It seemed as though someone had disinvented music— such silence.  I felt as though I had lost one of my senses.”

Jen had been living in a false dichotomy of either/or: either she lived or she wrote. But, she soon realized, she could live and write. Encountering an island of ice on a walk, she discovers an apt metaphor for the relationship between her work and her life:

“I walked past a reservoir in the spring and saw an ice island.  This was gray-black and submerged enough that it could have been the reflection of a cloud, except that it was covered with birds.  The birds were ankle deep in the cold water; pointing in all directions, they seemed, despite their concerted stares, to be scattered.  The island was something I’d seen and admired every year, but when I looked at it this time, I saw that it was transitory yet permanent, that its islandness depended on the water, which would destroy it and create it again.

The water and ice were antagonistic, but not only antagonistic.  The water was of the ice, after all, and the ice of the water; the water gave rise to the ice.  Their relationship was what James Alan McPherson might have called one of antagonistic cooperation.”

Ultimately, life and art aren’t armies in constant battle. They aren’t enemies— in fact, they can be great allies to each other: the mundane matter of life offers material for our art; making art makes life, at least, makes it worthwhile.

Ursula K. Le Guin on Why We Should Pay Attention to the Music of our Sentences

“A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences,” Strunk and White wrote in their seminal writing guide The Elements of Style in 1959.  For the last half century, their philosophy on writing has reigned in newsrooms and classrooms nationwide.  Modern sensibilities prefer minimalism to ornamentation: critics praise the muscular prose of Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver; high school teachers plead for their students to strip their sentences of superfluous words and fancy flourishes.

However, in her warm, witty Steering the Craft: A 21st Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, Ursula K. Le Guin revolts against the Strunk and White idea that good sentences are always short sentences.  A clean, concise sentence, Guin concedes, can be impactful, especially after a string of elaborate prose.  But too many short, Hemingway-esque sentences can start to sound as tiresome as the not-yet-developed thoughts of a five year old.  As Guin writes,

“…very short sentences, isolated or in a series, are highly effective in the right place.  Prose consisting entirely of short, syntactically simple sentences is monotonous, choppy, irritating.  If short-sentence prose goes on very long, whatever its content, the thump-thump beat gives it a false simplicity that soon just sounds stupid.  See Spot.  See Jane.  See Spot bite Jane.”

If we are to seduce our readers, Guin suggests, we must become attuned to the music of language.  At the word level, we must choose our words carefully and pay attention to the symphonies they create: the rhythm and cadence of single syllables, the romance of vowels, the flowy, melodious “r,” the harsh, percussive sounds of consonants like “p” and “t.”  At the sentence level, we must remember one word: variety.  Too many succinct sentences and our writing sounds like it belongs in a newsroom or child’s story; too many fussy, flowery sentences and our readers inevitably get lost in a maze of syntax and have trouble deciphering our meaning.  Balance is key.  

In his indispensable Murder Your Darlings, Roy Peter Clark complies the collected wisdom of fifty of the best writing books ranging from titans of the genre like William Zinsser and William Strunk to gentle, encouraging voices like Brenda Ueland and Anne Lamott.  Murder Your Darlings is like speed dating literature’s most iconic figures: the profile of each book is brief, but immensely instructive.  If you’re a professional writer, a diligent wordsmith or just a lover of language, you’ll delight in your dates with these literary legends. 

In his chapter on Ursula K. Le Guin, Clark distills Steering the Craft into 4 practical writing tips:

1. Read your drafts…out loud.  Pay attention to the sound of your sentences and watch out for passages that have a “monotonous rhythm.”

2.  Vary your sentence length.  Too many terse sentences one after another?  Add a longer sentence to give your writing a more pleasing melody.  Too many lengthy, meandering 20 word sentences?  Introduce a brief 2 or 4 word sentence for variety.  As Janet Fitch once said in “10 Rules for Writers,” switching up your sentence structure will keep your reader from going crosseyed.

3. Be purposeful in your repetition.  The rules of the English classroom often take the inviolability of edicts.  Avoid the passive voice.  Never use “I.”  Never end a sentence with a preposition.  Despite what stuffy English teachers may have told you, you shouldn’t always avoid repetition.  Often times, the most talented literary stylists use repetition to underscore a theme or reveal a message.  Take Sylvia Plath’s genius first line from The Bell Jar, her harrowing classic:

“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”

After this first image of a pair of Jewish spies being executed in the summer of 1953, the motif of electrocution is repeated throughout the story.  Why?  Because Ms. Plath was an incompetent hack who was too lazy to vary her word choice?  No, Plath intentionally repeats the image of electrocution to foreshadow the novel’s disturbing climax, the protagonist Esther’s botched electro-shock treatment.  Bad repetition is a result of oversight or sloppiness.  Good repetition serves a purpose.

When a reporter asked the late great Joan Didion why she repeats certain words and phrases, she replied, “I do it to remind the reader to make certain connections.  Technically it’s almost a chant.  You could read it as an attempt to cast a spell.”

So be a sorcerer of sentences.  Feel free to repeat…so long as you’re harnessing the incantatory power of language.

4. This last tip is my favorite.  Clark recommends close reading one of your own passages that you think works well.  Like Joan Didion who counted the words in Hemingway’s famous opening to Farewell to Arms, you should take a mathematical approach to your analysis: count, literally count, the words in each of your sentences.  What do you notice?  Most likely, you’ll see that you use a variety of sentences: simple, compound, complex.  Some of your sentences will be as condensed as a hurried p.s. at the end of a note; others will seem as epically enormous as a Donna Tartt novel.  Next time you go to write, use your passage as a model. 

Joan Didion on How Detours Bring Us Closer to Our Destiny

Most of us have clear ideas about how our dreams should unfold.  If we want to be movie stars, for example, we imagine our breakthrough moment will be an Academy Award or a critically-acclaimed starring role.  We dream our big break will manifest in a very specific way: a major director will notice us while we’re waiting tables; after a single audition, we’ll land our ideal part.  We imagine we’ll be “discovered” in some romantic fashion like Lana Turner, casually sipping a coke at a malt shop.  Our initiation into Tinseltown will be the legendary stuff of Hollywood lore.

But sometimes our “big break,” doesn’t seem big at all.  This, we think, wasn’t how it was supposed to go!  We were supposed to be “serious” actors— not amateurs in a 30 second McDonald’s commercial!

If we’re about to pass up an opportunity because it isn’t as glitzy or glamorous as our fantasies, because we think it’s a roundabout detour on what should be a straight and narrow path to our destiny, essayist and journalist Joan Didion would say one thing: don’t.

Didion understood that dreams don’t always come true the way we hoped.  After graduating from U.C. Berkeley in 1956, she moved to New York City to become a writer.  Her first gig was writing merchandising copy for Vogue.  Though Vogue is certainly a prestigious publication, Didion didn’t exactly imagine her “dream job” would involve writing compact 1-line captions for patent leather pumps.  Another writer might have dismissed this type of “writing” as frivolous.  But Didion saw fashion writing as a way to perfect her craft and polish her prose.  In her landmark 1978 essay “Telling Stories,” one of many characteristically clear-eyed pieces from Let Me Tell You What I MeanDidion realizes that her time at Vogue played a formative role in shaping the writer she’d become:

“It is easy to make light of this kind of ‘writing,’ and I mention it specifically because I do not make light of it at all: it was at Vogue that I learned a kind of ease with words, a way of regarding words not as mirrors of my own inadequacy but as tools, toy weapons to be deployed strategically on a page.  In a caption of, say, eight lines, each line to run no more or less than twenty-seven characters, not only every word but every letter counted.  At Vogue one learned fast, or did not stay, how to play games with words, how to put a couple of unwieldy dependent clauses through the typewriter and roll them out transformed into one simple sentence composed of precisely thirty-nine characters.  We were connoisseurs of synonyms.  We were collectors of verbs.  (I recall “to ravish” as a highly favored verb for a number of issues and I also recall it, for a number of issues more, as the source of a highly favored noun: “ravishments,” as in “tables cluttered with porcelain tulips, Faberge eggs, and other ravishments.”)  We learned as reflex the grammatical tricks we had learned only as marginal corrections in school (“there were two oranges and an apple” read better than “there were an apple and two oranges,” passive verbs slowed down sentences, “it” needed a reference within the scan of an eye), learned to scan the OED, learned to write and rewrite and rewrite again.  “Run it through again, sweetie, it’s not quite there.”  “Give me a shock verb two lines in.”  “Prune it out, clean it up, make the point.”  Less was more, smooth was better, and absolute precision essential to the monthly grand illusion.  Going to work for Vogue was, in the 1950s, not unlike training with the Rockettes.”

It was at Vogue that Didion developed her distinctive style and terse, tough-minded prose.  Lesson?  We never know how the seeds of our dreams will blossom and grow.  For more from this stellar sentence stylist, read Ms. Didion on writing as a process of discovery and the pains & perils of self-doubt.

Joan Didion on Self-Doubt

Oscar Wilde once said, “The artist’s life is a long, lovely suicide.”  Though Wilde could be dramatic, the idea that writing is agonizing is certainly not an overstatement.  Writing is torment.  Writing is laboring all day on a single page only to toss it in the trash.  For every day of creative bliss, there are countless days when you want to quit.

To go to the blank page is to meet your demons.  When we write, we must battle that barbarous inner voice who whispers “you’re not good enough” at every turn.  Still, we write songs and sonnets because we possess a primal urge.  Writing is a way of saying “I was here.”

All writers struggle with self-doubt, whether they’re toiling away in anonymity or are widely renowned.  It’s hard to imagine someone as influential and iconic as Joan Didion questioning her own talent.  But much like Virginia Woolf— who felt inconceivably inferior compared to her idol Marcel Proust (“Proust so titillates my own desire for expression that I can hardly set out a sentence,” she wrote to a friend in 1922)— Didion believed she was hopelessly dull compared to her infinitely more interesting peers.In “Telling Stories,” one of many incisively-observed essays from Let Me Tell You What I Mean, Didion offers a glimpse into the writer’s fragile psyche.  In the fall of 1954, Didion, who at the time was a junior at U.C. Berkeley, earned a coveted spot in writer and literary critic Mark Schorer’s English 106A.   “An initiation into the grave world of real writers,” English 106A was a writer’s workshop that required students to write five short stories.

As an inexperienced nineteen-year-old, Didion swiftly sunk into the quicksand of insecurity.  “Who am I to write?” she wondered, “Do I even have anything meaningful to say?”

Her classmates had met famous people and travelled to far-flung places.  Her own life felt uneventful by comparison.  She had never been in love or known real difficulty.  She had never had an affair in Cuba or danced all night in Harlem or sipped wine in Tuscany.  Her short life was circumscribed within the 100 square miles of her native Sacramento.  Certainly, she believed, there was nothing in her unremarkable life that could be transmuted into a short story or novel:

“I remember each other member of this class as older and wiser than I had hope of ever being…not only older and wiser but more experienced, more independent, more interesting, more possessed of an exotic past: marriages and the breaking up of marriages, money and the lack of it, sex and politics and the Adriatic seen at dawn; the stuff not only of grown-up life itself but more poignantly to me at the time, the very stuff which might be transubstantiated into five short stories.  I recall a Trotskyist, then in his forties.  I recall a young woman who lived, with a barefoot man and a large white dog, in an attic lit only by candles.  I recall classroom discussions which ranged over meetings with Paul and Jane Bowles, incidents involving Djuna Barnes, years spent in Paris, in Beverley Hills, the Yucatan, on the Lower East Side of New York and on Repulse Bay and even on morphine.  I had spent seventeen of my nineteen years in Sacramento, and the other two in the Tri Delt house on Warring Street in Berkeley.  I had never read Paul or Jane Bowles, let alone met them, and when, some fifteen years later at a friend’s house in Santa Monica Canyon, I did meet Paul Bowles, I was immediately rendered as dumb and awestruck as I had been when I was nineteen and taking English 106A.”  

As a fellow English major at U.C. Berkeley, I can relate to Ms. Didion’s plight.  Itoo— had to navigate the notoriously labyrinthine halls of Dwinelle as a shy, self-conscious girl in my early twenties.  As a transfer student from junior college who barely graduated high school and never dreamed of going to a prestigious four-year university, I had to constantly battle the debilitating sense that everyone in my class was somehow more qualified than me.  In the stately lecture halls of the Wheeler building, I felt unforgivably less than my bookish classmates who wore oxfords and chinos and had impressive internships at magazines.  Like Didion, I never spoke for fear my words would reveal my stupidity.  As Didion writes, 

“In short I had no past and, every Monday-Wednesday-Friday at noon in Dwinelle Hall, it seemed increasingly clear to me I had no future.  I ransacked my closet for clothes in which I might appear invisible to the class, and came up with only a dirty raincoat.  I sat in this raincoat and listened to other people’s stories read aloud and I despaired of ever knowing what they knew.  I attended every meeting of this class and never spoke once.  I managed to write only three of the five required stories.  I received— only, I think now, because Mr. Schorer, a man of infinite kindness to and acuity about his students, divined intuitively that my failing performance was a function of adolescent paralysis, of a yearning to be good and a fright that I never would be, of terror that any sentence I committed to paper would expose me as not good enough— a course grade of B.”

Paralyzed by fear, Didion didn’t write another story for ten years.  For a decade, she lost the battle against her merciless inner censor.  The irony, of course, is that— despite her insistence that she wasn’t interesting/intellectual/experienced enough— she would go on to become one of the most vital voices of her generation.  

Lesson?  Even great writers suffer writer’s block and fear rejection.  For more from Didion, read about her ideas on art as expression & discovery, her time at Vogue, and her famous sense of fashion.

Schopenhauer on Art as an Antidote to our Greatest Affliction

What is philosophy for?  For many, philosophy is a lofty subject only meant to be studied by tweed-jacketed professors in the university hall.  The word “philosopher” conjures images of men in ancient Greece or Rome who have white beards and wear long, flowy robes.  Philosophy isn’t for ordinary people like mailmen and school teachers— it’s reserved for great intellects like Nietzsche and Socrates and Plato.  Philosophers are a privileged class who have the time to ponder life’s big questions (who am I?/what am I meant to do?).

However, in his charming The Consolations of Philosophy, Alain de Botton argues just the opposite: philosophy is simply the study of how to live well.  A delightful little volume organized by afflictions such as “heartbreak,” “unpopularity,” and “not having enough money,” The Consolations of Philosophy rests on the premise that philosophy is a form of medicine.  The words of a great thinker can have restorative properties.  In this 2000 classic, the irresistibly intelligent Botton sifts through thousands of years of collective wisdom to find the wisest minds’ remedies for our most common problems.  

Do you only have $5 in your bank account, but long for luxurious pleasures such as Birkin bags and champagne-soaked meals at Michelin star restaurants?  A dose of Epicurus will remind you that happiness isn’t always found in the extravagant excesses of materialism.  Have you been driven to the brink of insanity by such tragic events as losing a loved one or such petty frustrations as losing your car keys?  Dr. Botton would write you a prescription for the Stoic philosopher Seneca.

Of all the difficulties in the modern world, loneliness is probably our most widespread problem.  In a recent national survey of American adults, 36% of respondents reported feeling lonely “frequently” or “almost all the time.”  More Americans are spending time alone than ever before.

Why do rates of loneliness run rampant?  Some blame our modern alienation on the advent of social media (after all, why bother with complicated, occasionally dull human interaction when TikTok provides dizzying dopamine-fueled hits of cheap entertainment?); others blame the capitalist rat race for money and status.  Certainly, our sense of isolation only worsened during the pandemic.

Luckily, there is a cure for our loneliness.  If we’re lacking connection in real life, we can find companionship in the fictional worlds of art and books.  Books are medicines for our maladies, slings for our spirits, salves for our wounds.  To read a book— or observe a painting or contemplate a poem— is to see our own lives reflected back to us.  By expressing their particular experience, the artist illuminates an aspect of the greater human experience.  Though Tolstoy wrote Family Happiness using his own experience of marriage, the modern woman who finds herself disenchanted with domesticity can still see herself in Masha’s tale.  Books remind us other people have felt our feelings and thought our thoughts, even if it was many centuries ago.  Referencing the great German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, Botton notes:

“We do have one advantage over moles.  We may have to fight for survival and hunt for partners and have children as they do, but we can in addition go to the theatre, the opera and the concert hall, and in bed in the evenings, we can read novels, philosophy and epic poems— and it is in these activities that Schopenhauer located a supreme source of relief from the demands of the will-to-life.  What we encounter in works of art and philosophy are objective versions of our own struggles, evoked and defined in sound, language, or image.  Artists and philosophers not only show us what we have felt, they present our experiences more poignantly and intelligently than we have been able; they give shape to aspects of our lives that we recognize as our own, yet could never have understood so clearly on our own.  They explain our condition to us, and thereby help us to be less lonely with, and confused by it.  We may be obliged to continue burrowing underground, but through creative works, we can at least acquire moments of insights into our woes, which spare us feelings of alarm and isolation (even persecution) at being afflicted by them.  In their different ways, art and philosophy help us, in Schopenhauer’s words, to turn pain into knowledge.”  

Ultimately, art dispels the illusion that we are alone in our struggles.  The dispirited can discover hope in the Letters of Vincent Van Gogh; the love sick can find solace in sonnets written by a Renaissance man nearly a half millennia ago.  Or as Botton writes, a snubbed suitor can find consolation in Goethe:

“By reading a tragic tale of love, a rejected suitor raises himself above his own situation; he is no longer one man suffering alone, singly and confusedly, he is part of a vast body of human beings who have throughout time fallen in love with other humans in the agonizing drive to propagate the species.  [By reading], his suffering loses a little of its sting.” 

Anna Quindlen on Why We Should Write

“Why write?”  I’m tormented by this question nearly every day.  Why bring yourself to your desk, day after day, and try to tame the monsters of your thoughts and pin them to the page?  Why suffer the seemingly unbearable periods of self-hatred and self-doubt if no one cares what we have to say?

In our results-oriented culture, we demand things “pay off.”  Writing a novel is only worthwhile if it becomes a bestseller.  Making a movie is only valuable if it makes us millions of dollars.  Composing a poem is only useful if it gets us somewhere.

The point of creating— we think— is to be seen and heard.  We perform for an audience.  We tap dance for applause.  We write so someone can read our words.

In many ways, we’re motivated by extrinsic rewards.  We write for awards and acclaim, for fame and fortune, for the coveted status of literary icon.  No matter how seemingly superficial, many of us secretly dream of rave reviews in the New York Times, our authorial black-and-white photograph on the back of a book cover.

What do we desire more than anything?

To be respected and esteemed.

If we turn 30 and still have never been published, we may be tempted to give up on our dreams.  We may stay awake late at night chastising ourselves for not choosing a more conventional career.  “Maybe,” we wonder during these midnight terrors, “we should’ve just made our parents proud and become doctors.”

At this moment when we’re most discouraged, we must remember why we write in the first place.  In her clarion call to write, Write for Your Life, populist of the page Anna Quindlen suggests there are far more pressing reasons to put pen to page.  We should write— not for stardom or celebrity— but because the act of writing gives life form and shape.  So much of life is fleeting, transitory.  Unless made solid, our experiences are like grains of sand spilling through a sieve.  Many years from now when we reflect upon our lives, our most cherished memories will be hazy and indistinct.  Writing is a net, a way to catch memory before it flutters away.  

Writing is a means to immortality.  Life is brief, as momentary as the flap of a butterfly’s wing.  Words on a page, however, are long-lasting.  If we have a passing thought, it darts across our consciousness only to forever fade.  But if we record our thoughts— our musings and meditations, our judgements and observations, our daydreams and reveries— they will endure long after we have passed away. 

Recounting a rather mundane moment when she helped a blind woman cross the street, Quindlen writes,

“…and for a few minutes it was nothing but an interior anecdote, passing eventually, as these things do, into memory.

But written down, it lives.  It’s there, it’s real.  That’s the important thing.  That’s why we write things down, to give them life.  Sometimes people ask whether a particularly difficult or challenging situation is made cathartic through writing.  I’m not sure writing about things always makes us feel better, but perhaps it sometimes does make loss, tragedies, disappointments more actual.  It can turn them into somethings with a clear shape and form, and therefore make it possible to see them more deeply and clearly, and more usefully turn confusion and pain into understanding and perhaps reconciliation.  On paper our greatest challenges become A Real Thing, in a world in which so much seems ephemeral and transitory.”

What’s wonderful about books is they connect us with the finest minds from many years ago.  With the turn of a page, a lonesome 21st century reader can find a friend in Tolstoy or Kafka, Hemingway or Fitzgerald.  

In the same way, what we write can speak across continents and centuries to future generations of people.  Though it might seem horribly self-indulgent to write about our own experiences (after all, who cares if our mother died or we just broke up with our boyfriend of 10 years?), we are never just writing for ourselves: what we write inevitably helps others.  Art is an act of service, not an expression of ego.  Writing is a form of connection, a bridge that stretches across the vast distances of time and space and brings together seemingly dissimilar people.   Too often in life, we feel solitary in our struggles.  When we write truthfully about our experiences, we remind our readers that they are not alone.  

Take Anne Frank.  When she wrote in her diary, she probably felt like another teenage girl: obsessing about boys, complaining about her problematic relationship with her mother.  There were probably many mornings when she wondered “why write at all?”  Little did she know that her diary would come to represent the horrors of the Holocaust and resonate with millions around the globe.  Lesson?  We have no idea how our words will impact the world.  As Quindlen notes, 

“That is a kind of afterlife all our own stories, inconsequential and important as well, can assume when we record them.  To write the present is to believe in the future.  One of the poignant things about Anne Frank’s diary is that the very composition suggests that someday she will live to tell it all, and in some sense I suppose she does, on the page, in the attic, surviving day by day, never dreaming that by doing so she will help some of us survive, too.  She’s not really writing the story of the Holocaust, although that’s what she illuminates.  She’s telling the story of one small and unremarkable life that has come to stand for millions of others, and so became remarkable.”

Anna Quindlen on Writing as a Means of Figuring Out Who You Are & Remembering Who You Once Were

Why write?  Joan Didion believed we should write to discover what we’re thinking, what we’re looking at and what it means, what we want and what we fear.  Brenda Ueland thought we should put pen to page “because the best way to know the Truth or Beauty is to try to express it and what is the purpose of existence Here or Yonder but to discover truth and beauty and express it; i.e. share it with others?”  Susan Sontag asserted we should write to create the self while Anais Nin thought we should write to discover our own voice and overcome the picky perfectionism of our inner censor.

When we write, especially in a diary, we realize we’re the authors of our own lives: we can take control of our narratives, we can rewrite our storylines.  Writing is a compass and a map that illuminates where we want to go.  Writing is a candle in a dark night and a life raft during a turbulent storm of the soul.  Writing is a source of companionship and connection, even if the only person we’re talking to is ourselves.

In her love letter to personal writing Write for Your Life, Anna Quindlen urges us to write because writing can help us figure out who we are.  The act of formulating our thoughts on a page, arranging our incoherent ideas into semantic structures of comprehensible meaning somehow makes the chaos of life more orderly.  When we order words on a page, we order ourselves.  Writing brings us clarity about who we are and what we want.  

Take Anne Frank’s famous diary.  At the time of writing, Frank was living through one of the most horrifying conflicts in human history, hiding in a small attic from the Nazis.  Her diary, whom she affectionately called Kitty, was her closest confidante.  In her war-wrecked world, musing over things in her diary was a rare source of comfort.  As Quindlen writes, 

“What sometimes gets lost, in the many decades since her father first published Anne Frank’s diary, in the millions of copies it has sold in dozens of languages, is that when she first began, Anne Frank wasn’t writing a book.  She was talking to herself.  And she was talking to herself in a way that any of us can do too.  She was finding solace in writing her life, her thoughts and feelings, day after day.  Words to live by.

Anne Frank was living through an extraordinary experience, an extraordinary time, an extraordinary horror, and to ground herself she was committing everything to paper, much of it not particularly profound.  The curtains at the windows, the cupboard to hide the door.  She writes about how everyone thinks she is badly behaved, about how much she hates algebra and geometry.  Eventually she ran out of space in the birthday diary and continued in exercise books and accounting ledgers from the office below.  In some ways she sounds like a typical teenager: a mother who doesn’t understand her, a boy she wants to be alone with.  In others, surely not: the toilet that cannot be flushed for the entire day, the enforced silence to forestall the unexpected footsteps on the stairs, the sound of those footsteps evoking terror because of what the family Frank has heard is happening in the world outside the attic.  

But Anne’s diary is also instructive about how writing, for anyone, for everyone, for you and for me, can normalize the abnormal and feed the spirit, whether during exceptional moments of history or just ordinary moments of everyday life…For young people like Anne, it’s a way of understanding yourself, hearing your own voice, puzzling out your identity.”

One of the greatest joys of keeping a diary is sifting through it many years later.  The tattered pages transport us to an entirely different epoch, an entirely different era: when we left home for college, when we thought metal heads with Jesus hair were cute.  A diary is both a time capsule and a scrapbook.  Rereading our diary, we become historians attempting to understand another time, another civilization, another culture.  Or, as Joan Didion once said, writing is a way to keep us on nodding terms with the people we once were.

With characteristic eloquence, Quindlen writes, 

“For those far along in the span of their lifetimes, writing offers an opportunity to look back, a message in a bottle that says, This was life.  This was how it was, this was who I was.”

In this way, writing is a means to escape our mortal coil and live forever.  When we write, we’re usually writing for ourselves: to vent, to process events, to record.  But our writing can also console our loved ones when we inevitably pass on.  In Write for Your Life, Quindlen describes the experiences of the National Writing Project’s executive director Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, whose mother spent her later years writing poems.  After her mother’s death, nothing comforted Elyse more than reading her mother’s words.  Though her mother had departed this physical realm, her spirit persisted in her poems.  Her verse could speak across the vast reaches of time and space, in this life and the hereafter.  “Writing,” Quindlen notes, “is the gift of your presence forever.”  

Meditating on the relationship between writing and memory, Quindlen uses an illustrative metaphor:

“When you write, you connect with yourself, past, present and future.  I remember myself, the little girl who wrote poems, the college applicant who said without guile or humility that her goal in life was to be a writer.  Writing can make memory concrete, and memory is such a hard thing to hold on to, like a Jell-O mold, all wiggly but with solid bits embedded clearly.”

In many ways, writing is a work of magic: it exteriorizes the interior, renders the invisible thought a visible word.  Floating and half-conscious, thoughts whirl by once and disappear; words are forever.  By capturing our fluttering thoughts and committing them to paper, we better remember.  As Quindlen so beautifully observes, 

“The point is writing is a net, catching memory and pinning it to a board like people sometimes do with butterflies like the ones we hatched.  Writing is a hedge against forgetting, forgetting forever.”



Anna Quindlen’s Passionate Plea to Preserve History

For most of us, history is a series of monumental events and larger-than-life figures.  Jesus.  Napoleon.  Alexander the Great.  Winston Churchill.  Hitler.  History is excitement, drama: the invention of the wheel, the bombing of Hiroshima.  Our history books tell the tales of great men: presidents, politicians, philosophers, poets.  Rarely do we hear the ordinary stories of ordinary women and men.

However, as Leo Tolstoy once said, history is more accurately described as “an infinitely large number of infinitely small actions”— in other words, the combined effect of the many small actions of commonplace people.  In Write for Your Life, Anna Quindlen makes a passionate plea for us to write: grocery lists and bullet point notes, diaries and love letters, novels and poems.  A populist of the page, Quindlen believes writing isn’t just for writers.  All people should write: young Jewish girls hiding from Nazis, troubled teens from 1990s Long Beach, nurses and doctors.  

But why bother?  In the book’s final chapter, Quindlen suggests writing is vital because the act of putting pen to page preserves our stories in the historical record.  Sadly in many classrooms across the country, the most compelling events of human history are reduced to a meaningless list of facts and figures.  Rather than see their own potential to contribute a chapter to the story of the world, most students understand history as a series of trivial names and dates and tedious lectures.  History— we believe— is an inaccessible textbook reserved for distant lands and boring, bygone figures.  As Quindlen observes, 

“It is a sad and undeniable fact that history comes to us drained of blood and embalmed, a penology of stiff set pieces starring great men, an array of nations and dates and documents.  In classrooms, in seminars, in books, it is too often something to memorize and too seldom something to be a part of.  The distinguished historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., once wrote, ‘History is lived in the main by the unknown and forgotten.  But historians perforce concentrate on the happy few who leave records, give speeches, write books, make fortunes, hold offices, win or lose battles and thrones.’

In the past those happy few wrote the story, turning history into an enormous, grand house, a little like the White House, chandeliers and columns and porticoes.  But where is the furniture?  We are the furniture.  The history people need to understand where we have come from, what to decry and what to prize, is not a history of presidents and generals.  It is the history of us, and one reason ordinary people must write is to leave their own records, to furnish the rooms of our country and our world.”

British philosopher Alain de Botton once said, telling a story is a process of simplification and selection.  Think about it: when you tell a story, you don’t include every single detail.  You emphasize certain things and eliminate others.  You omit, you compress, you only leave what is most relevant to the plot.  The narrator of the story determines what’s important vs. what’s not.

This is true of our larger historical stories as well.  But who has the power to narrate the stories of our nation, our civilization, our world?  Who can speak and who is silenced?  Who has a voice and who is exiled to the island of voicelessness?

Tragically, throughout time, men have told their stories while silencing the dispossessed and marginalized.  Men, specifically white men, have dictated which stories are significant and which are unworthy of our attention.  “History” is now commonly understood as relating to the public realm of war, government and politics.  But history isn’t just grand events or once-in-a-lifetime occurrences— it’s also the mundane moments.  History is a courageous young girl writing in her diary just as much as it is Pearl Harbor and Auschwitz.  The right to tell your own story (and therefore contribute to the larger story of history) belongs to every human.  If we don’t tell our stories, Quindlen warns, our experiences will be wiped from the historical record and forever forgotten:

“There are too few such stories written down, handed down, made part of history alongside the songs of exploration, economics, and government.  Relying on that kind of history provides a skewed view of the world because it is almost entirely the history of deeds done by white men, who wrote down what happened as they saw fit, picking and choosing and editing and deleting.  And so the rest of us became invisible, at best bit players in the sweep of history.”

Just as Rebecca Solnit argued journalists have the responsibility to rewrite the world’s broken narratives, Quindlen asserts citizens have a duty to tell their stories.  When we tell our stories, we reclaim our right to be seen, to be heard, to contribute a chapter to the chronicle of history.  By committing our thoughts to paper, whether that be in a major newspaper or the private pages of a diary, we’re asserting we matter, our lives matter.  As Quindlen writes, 

“If, in good times and in bad times and ordinary times, people who may not think of themselves as writers begin to set their stories down, in their own voices, in whichever way they choose, it will make history, make it truer, fairer, richer.  We need to hear from everyone, durable words, like the letters Sandy wrote to Harry as a war bride, the essays written by the nursing students at Yale, the recollections of those Kansas women making a home amid hardship.  We need the words of people whose words were unremarked in histories of the past.  If those unaccustomed to the act of everyday writing can find ways to recover the urge to sit down and produce thoughts, musings, letters for their children, their friends, the future, we will not only know what happened during their lifetimes, we will know how it felt.  As Anne Frank showed the world, as the Freedom Writers learned themselves, history is our story.  Those who write it, own it, today and always.”

Want more insight into why we should write?  Visit Anna Quindlen on why we should write and writing as a means to write who we are and remember who we once were.  Still tormented by the immortal question of why we should pen to page?  Read Joan Didion’s canonical answer in her 1976 essay of the same name.