Why Do We Write? 

By Finn Sapp PZ ’26

Jim Morrison of the Doors once said that “poetry is the ultimate art form, because what defines us human beings is language.” Morrison, a serial creative writer, was a cultural revelation and disrupter. He, however, is not alone in his appreciation for written language. I am newly addicted to the pleasures of writing, and I agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly.   

Through my writing I have explored parts of myself that had once been dormant. From the moment I made my first pen stroke – for myself, not school – onto a piece of paper, it was like the fourth wall had broken. It was not just a stream of emotions, ideas, thoughts, desires, and aspirations that were emancipated, it was a tsunami. My writing has morphed from simply just emotional exhalation, but to include this with worlds more. And do you want to know what? That is beautiful!   

Writing can be anything we want it to be. There is a reason that there is a magnificent multiplicity of ways to put words on to a page. Writing ranges from colloquial diary entries to literary epics such as The Iliad by Homer and Hamlet by William Shakespeare. There is a way that seeing words formulated in a certain order can influence our actions or even alter our realities. Writing has a profound effect on us.   

It is important to note the many ways in which these little scribbles can have a dramatic impact. I would like to name two sources that are quite alien to one another. First, let us look at a rather facetious newspaper headline. In a 2008 Recession era newspaper article, The Baltimore Sun aired a headline that humorized the times. They ran with, “Cows lose their jobs as milk prices drop.” Now, we as people know this is impossible. A cow is an animal full of flatulence and methane. This jocular statement is a fabrication that has created a possibility: what if cows could work like humans? What if their livelihood depended on them keeping the milk prices high (which is preposterous, I know)? These are some of the questions that pop into the reader’s head. This simple sentence titling the newspaper gives this made-up story a narrative in our imaginations. I, personally, can envision cows in their cheap suits and knock-off briefcases walking to the farm in order to have their utters squeezed all day. How silly! 

The second source I would like to examine forms a backdrop of pure literature. Gregory David Roberts’ novel Shantaram is a 1,000-page masterclass in storytelling prowess. For a brief background, it is about his life as an ex-heroin addict and prison escapee. The book takes place in 1980’s Bombay where he established a free medical clinic in a slum, worked for the mafia, and even went to war. This book took me through a cerebral and imaginative journey that I have never experienced before. My thoughts while reading became lucid narratives that comely unfurled word by word. I cannot even think, let alone dream as vividly as I could picture this story coming to life before my eyes. This is truly the apex of what words can produce. I am not alone either. Famed American author Pat Conroy believed it to be “a novel of the first order, a work of extraordinary art, a thing of exceptional beauty.” This novel was so moving that it enchanted an accomplished writer such as Conroy, along with others. These two examples are just a sliver of the world of wonderful words.   

Writing has the audacity to transform and transcend. Many people, however, would argue that spoken words are much more powerful than when they are still married to paper. I understand this sentiment completely. When I see a charismatic figure dazzling me with their lively and invigorating energy, they can inspire me a great deal. This is not a product of the words they are saying, but the way they are said. If you look at the most rhetorically gifted individuals, their ability to sway people or large populaces rests on their personalities. I could say the most inspirational quote in history, but if I did not say it with the right vigor, it would not have half the splash as someone with a fuller presence having said it. Words give birth to speech, which become the lived version of what was originally written.   

There is still something fascinating about these made-up symbols symbiotically creating a thread between people. What is it about a bunch of scribbles forming a common discourse? I would like to revisit Jim Morrison and his concept of the artistic significance of poetry. The rest of the quote reads, “the way we talk is the way we think, and the way we think is the way we act, and the way we act, is what we are.” Language is what makes us who we are. Language is what ties us together. Language is how we communicate. Language is how we express ourselves. Language is the manifestation of the myriad of ideas that our minds possess. And language is grounded in writing.   

I would like to return to my personal experience. Like I said earlier, I have not been writing for very long. About a year and a half ago, I spent several months living completely in the wilderness. During my time there, we could only listen to the mediocre music emanating from the old van radios. I have an especially deep connection to music, and the only touch I had with the music I love was through the lyrics my mom sent me. I would then transcribe them into my journal to recapture any intimate connection I had with them. After about a month of this, I just said to myself, “why don’t I try to write something?” I had no preconceived notions about what would flow out of my flimsy pen and into my dusty journal, but I had to try. So, I wrote something that was in the structure of my favorite songs (many of which were from The Doors, funny enough) but read more like a poem. From this experiment, my days of writing poetry sprung to life.   

Writing was like a drug of which I could not get enough. I got a high from how I put words together or structure a stanza or rhyme a series of lines. The onset of my writing brought me elation that I couldn’t understand. There was just something about these poems that I had not experienced before. It was magical honestly. Now, even after I have had my fix, I find myself fiending for more. It is an insatiable lust that has taken me over.  

But poetry is just one cohort of the literary universe. Written language expands far beyond the dimension of creative writing. Writing consumes us. It is around us every day; whether we like it or not. Have you ever read a news headline and immediately spit up your coffee? I have. Those few words – just like the cow headline – can be very jarring. Let us consider a fictional headline such as: “Roger Rabbit has been elected as the 47th President of the United States.” This is only an arrangement of thirteen words, but it has dire implications. This cascades us into another world. This is someone with a promiscuous wife. He was framed. How can a scandalous little bunny like himself be fit to serve as President? Thirteen words. That is all it takes to create a narrative and reality that had not existed. Writing this sentence impregnated the page with the foundation for a spiraling world where a rabbit is our Commander-in-Chief. Thirteen words.   

I do not have the answers to the questions I am asking, but I invite you to ask them with me. There are only twenty-six letters in the English alphabet and only a finite number of words. These symbols are, quite frankly, imaginary. At one time in history, they simply did not exist. We have created them and through collective learning have given them extraordinary meaning. They are the basis for communication and the world could not exist without them. Their intrinsic value amplifies our thoughts. We put an assortment of these once nonexistent symbols onto a page and a new world is created. We can draft a novel and explore a new universe. We can write a poem and give life to our souls. We can write in a diary and capture our life, our experience, our emotions, in that very moment… for eternity. The finite words and letters in our language can create life. There are infinite possibilities through writing. Anything can happen. Anything can become something. Just these tiny, simple letters that have the key to exploring anything. Infinity is the limit through writing and writing is infinitely beautiful.

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