The Impact of Writing
You know deep inside that what you have to say has some kind of force.
Once or twice in my life, I’d been told that I had “a way with words.”
I’m not sure how much of that is true, but it is nice to believe even if I don’t know where it came from. I never formally pursued writing when I was younger. I didn’t join a creative writing class or a journalism club or my school’s publication. But I do know that I had always put in the extra effort to craft a well-written requirement, may it be a speech, essay, article, or a research paper.
So after giving it some thought, here I am, trying my luck in Medium. I read all these awesome curated stories, only to find myself somewhere between feelings of intense inspiration as an aspiring writer and self-contempt for being such an amateur.
As with most beginner writers, my frustrations root from any of the following: the difficulty of building a consistent writing habit, the seemingly limited pool of good concepts to write about when I try to keep writing, or the inability to find the perfect words when I actually have something to say.
But I think that what makes it a little bit easier every day is that faint whisper in your head telling you that there’s something there. For yourself. For a friend. And maybe for a whole lot of other people. You know deep inside that what you have to say has some kind of force.
You know, one way or another, that your writing can create impact.
The way I see it is that this impact can happen on three fronts. Let’s call them Impact Zones. Writing allows us to free our minds (psychological), to play a part in someone else’s story (social), and to offer something bigger than ourselves to the world (societal).
Psychological Impact: Catharsis
Like any form of art, writing is a deeply personal endeavor. I started out in middle school riding the blog bandwagon when Blogspot and Myspace were the hottest social media platforms. Today I still keep a personal journal that I use every now and then, but that on-and-off usage has largely depended on the urge to write rather than the capacity to write.
Basically, when emotions run wild, I often put it into writing. And when I do, I let my train of thought roam free and far, sometimes to the most picturesque landscapes. Other times, to the most wretched sceneries. I explain, prod, rant, vent, comfort, berate myself — whatever it takes to fathom out the feelings.
It’s no coincidence that the greatest writers of the past employed the technique of stream of consciousness. The natural chaos of our thoughts makes the writing so poignant, especially when the flow is uninterrupted and the waters run deep.
Good, honest writing can be an extremely cathartic experience. The fact that you want to do it for yourself is reason enough to write. Ironically, when you find it hard to do it for yourself is an even more compelling reason to do it.
It takes a lot to pour your heart out, even when it’s just on a page. But this inner impact of writing hinges on the intimacy of our personal truths. Vulnerability makes us wiser, not weaker. As Neil Gaiman tells us,
“The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”
Though words may not always offer immediate relief, they reward you with a sense of liberation and gratification that is far more enduring.
Social Impact: Connection
I love reading a good story anywhere. There’s so much to learn, to discover, to understand about the world. But the stories that have really stuck with me are the ones that made me feel like they understood me.
It’s exactly the same as that one song that seemed to have been written specifically for you or about you. The one that punched you to the gut and got you thinking, “That’s exactly how I feel.” And what are songs but simple words given a melody?
In one of my dance concerts, I had the opportunity to write a short prologue for a gratitude piece that was dedicated to our loved ones. We wanted to let them know how thankful we were for their patience and support, for understanding the countless times we had to pass up even on the most important celebrations and excuse ourselves with “Sorry, I can’t go. I have training.”
The message I had written was very simple. I meant for it to be emotionally-charged, but only when it was revealed to the rest of the team and to the audience that I understood just how much. It stirred the hearts of both the dancers and the audience. Needless to say, it got the message across.
Writing creates meaningful stories that connect people. When you write, you enrich the world with empathy by telling other people that they’re not alone in how they feel. That there is at least one other person in this world who knows exactly what it’s like to be in their shoes. The astonishing part about it is that it happens even when we don’t expect it to.
And you know what’s even more astonishing? It’s when your words are able to paint such a vivid picture of how other people feel, that they become more in sync with who they are. All because of what you wrote.
Societal Impact: Change
“When I was little… I wanted to be blonde, blue-eyed, and white.”
This was the intro of Patricia Evangelista’s winning speech “Blonde and Blue-eyed” in an international public speaking competition back in 2004. I don’t remember exactly how I came across this, neither do I remember why it had such a strong hold on me at such a young age, but I do remember thinking for the first time, “This is great writing.”
And the fact that this 18-year old Filipina bested 60 other contestants from 37 countries proves just how powerful this piece was. The theme that year was “A Borderless World”. Despite such a broad concept, Patricia was really able to bring it home by talking about what she calls the Filipino diaspora that has become a global phenomenon — The story of the Overseas Filipino Workers or OFWs.
It was personal yet all-encompassing, sentimental yet fair-minded.
This is what great writing is capable of. It gives you the power to shed light on a reality that the world is facing. It gives you the power to represent, to be the voice for people who are unable to share their own. It allows you to concretize into words the moment when empathy tips into compassion — when the ability to understand and share someone’s difficulties sparks the desire to take action and help.
Words have inspired nations to clamor for victory against tyrants (Winston Churchill’s Their Finest Hour), societies to end discrimination & social inequality (Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream), the youth to shame world leaders for their ignorance & inaction (Greta Thunberg’s How Dare You).
Great writing moves the needle. World-views are challenged. Schools of thoughts are introduced. Paradigms shift. And change is ignited at a breathtaking scale.
Obviously, this amplifies that there is a long way to go for an aspiring writer like me. Sure, I’ve felt its cathartic promise. The power to connect with others, sometimes. But be a catalyst for change? Far from it.
The road ahead is paved with self-doubt, frustration, insecurity, and sometimes, a forgotten sense of purpose. But when someone tells you that you have a gift (even if it’s just one person, and that person is your mom or your best friend), you have every right to work with what you’ve got and use it to make the world a better place.
Surely enough, someone who has “a way with words”, can be someone who has “a way with the world”, right?