I’m not sure that I am the right person to answer this question because at the core, my feelings about this are about as inarticulate and visceral as someone who has deeply held religious beliefs. And like a religious argument, it probably comes down to a question of values, emotions, and faith. Again, like a religious argument, it has no meaning if we can’t come to an agreement about basic priorities and a common understanding of the world.
Which is to say that I’m not sure I’ll convince anyone of anything. Perhaps better to try to articulate why writing matters to me.
As previously discussed, there has been a trendy consensus about our ancestors and the assumption that they sat around the roasting mastodon telling each other tales. About what, we can only imagine. But lacking Standard Operating Procedures and text books, I imagine that some of the content included the best places to find the stone for arrow-making, how to identify the most vulnerable flesh on the prey de jour, and all the reasons why your ancestors were superior to the ancestors of the guy at that other fire over there. They were limited by proximity and memory. We have the written word.
Perhaps Harry Potter’s wand doesn’t exist in the real world, but there is real power in imagination. And throwing yourself at the task of sparking that imagination, sneaking past the barrier of skin to get inside someone else’s body and take them on a journey. Is there anything harder? Is there anything more fascinating? Anything more powerful and therefore potentially dangerous? This is magic, or at least as close as we get. Creating a spell with the right words, the chosen cadence, the swell of action balanced with emotion. Inhabiting another world in your mind and giving that world to someone else.
Anyone can destroy with words. You don’t have to be particularly good to spread fear and hatred. But to create comfort where there is none? To reach out to people who you will never meet and, even briefly, let them know that they are not alone, that there is beauty in the world, to take their hand and say “come with me”… How could that be anything less than one of the most amazing gifts ever?
Going back to Religion… How many people have made it through the day with the voice of the Psalmist speaking to them “yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil”? That idea, that voice is over 2,000 years old. And it still gives me goose bumps today. Not out of any particular religious feeling, but from the sheer power of the words.
Peter S. Beagle has never met me. He may know vaguely that I exist, but only because he sent me a book a long time ago. Before I was even born, Mr. Beagle had written a story called The Last Unicorn. He didn’t write it with me in mind, he didn’t know that I’d be a thirteen year old in 1991 facing a very difficult day and that his words would serve as the thread that I’d follow out of the dark. He didn’t write the book with a mind to saving me. But save me he did.
The ability to take what you think and put it down on the page, not in a format that speaks only to you, but with the intention of extending that comfort and encouragement to a stranger you can’t possibly even begin to see… It is the best gift I know how to give.
And since one shouldn’t give sloppy, half-assed gifts, it is incumbent on you to do it right – both in motivation and in using the tools of the craft to the very best of your ability. Which is why writing matters.
Of course I’ve used fiction heavily here, but it applies equally across the spectrum of written products. A well written memo is heard in the head of the reader just as a short story or a poem is. The demands on the Author are the same.