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Writing is relaxing

An abstract essay on the simplest of pleasures.

There are close to 300 drafts on my cloud storage that stand as testament to one of my core beliefs: writing can be relaxing. Sometimes I have no idea why I wrote them: putting words to paper can be miraculously calming. At other times I never could say enough to publish my thoughts as a properly structured article (either because I did not have so much to say or because I decided it was not worth saying). There are still other times when I wrote with the intention of publishing it but later decided not to.

However it ultimately turned out, every single draft started off with a common intention. This is well past my 1,500th article, which is something I find interesting. Only a third of my writing has remained a draft, which is a much lower count than I had expected. One of the most likely reasons I can think of for this is my rate of publishing was greater when I started out. This was either because I was overly eager to publish something or because I had set my bar too low. It turned out just fine in the end.

Not all of these started off as drafts on the cloud, though. They all have different stories behind them, behind where I wrote them, how I wrote them, what I used to write them and so on. Of course there is also the ‘why’ part that I will ignore of now. It is, after all, neither hard nor (necessarily) interesting to examine why I wrote something, which brings me to my first argument: you write either because you like something or because you hate something.

To reduce something as complex as writing to two binary emotions might seem outrageous at first, but I hold that any intent can be categorised one way or the other. Pick anything you ever wrote and ask yourself what prompted you to write something and you will likely find that it was either because you liked something and you wanted to talk about it or you disliked something and wanted to talk about it.

Rarely do we talk about something neutral, but there is a third possible approach: you wrote because you could not decide whether you liked something or hated it. Writing can be both a manner of expression and a saloon for contemplation. Most of the latter are best filed away as drafts, never to be seen by any eye but the writer’s. Most of the former is published after it is written, unfortunately, with little review.

To me, publishing has rarely been a motive as far as articles on my website are concerned (elsewhere, on other media, publishing is most certainly the point). But why? Does a website somehow demand less of a surety? One could look at it that way, but that would imply not breaking free from traditional thinking. People read a website same as a magazine or newspaper article, and the ease of publishing need not devalue the writing itself. In fact, as writers we owe it to the reader to ensure all writing is worth their while.

A common thread here, though, is one of personalisation. The whole idea of valuing and devaluing (unlike in a central bank) is subjective in nature. It is a direct result of what we choose to believe. And this brings us to the elephant in the room: does writing for one’s own pleasure free them of all responsibility to the reader?

Again, there are a couple of ways to look at this: if you write for pleasure but intend to publish it, you are still responsible for a reader’s time. This is all morally, of course, and not legally. On the other hand, if you write for pleasure and choose not to publish it, as I have done with my three-hundred-odd drafts, the reader safely remains out of the picture. If, on the other hand, you write to please the reader, you had better stop writing altogether.

Beneath all this remains dormant another question: why is writing a pleasure anyway? I am inclined to believe that human nature is the answer. We have a strong, inherent desire to share. Hence the great survival of social media: they feed on a desire so entwined with our existence that they are guaranteed to last as long as we do, in one form or another.

The fact that I have weaned myself off social media does not mean I am somehow different. Nor does it mean so for any of the other millions who have done the same. But that is as far as I can talk for the others; as for myself, being an introvert, sharing to me means putting pen to paper and not words on a social media profile. Hence the many drafts.

The fact that we can come up with so many, equally plausible reasons for having such a large bank of drafts goes to show that no single reason is absolutely correct. Perhaps there is a little of everything. I do wish, though, that certain newspapers took this approach. Reporting the news is not a matter of pleasure although some publications oddly seem to treat it that way. Such reportage is better left as a draft somewhere in a cellar, but I digress.

Writing has its benefits and purposes and, like anything else, they all need to be kept in place. Reading on a hammock or a swing (something I spent most of my childhood summers doing) is something that cannot be mimicked. There are still simpler pleasures: pushing your hand into a bag of grains, standing in a field while a cool breeze blows at you, walking by a lake as the sun sets, scraping fingernails on a chalkboard.

While that last one was decidedly a joke, it goes to show just how simple annoyances can be too. Sitting next to someone who shakes their leg constantly is among my biggest complaints. Bad colour, design and aesthetics, while not necessarily ‘simple’ are right around the top of my list. Untrimmed fingernails, unkempt hair, unshaved beards are all no good. Like a coin, every simple pleasure in life has an equally simple pet peeves to neutralise things and restore some sort of order in the universe. This has always interested me.

It is everywhere: the yin and yang of our world as the Chinese call it — the antiproton to the proton, the negative to a positive, the wrecking ball to an intricate monument and so on. Foods with opposing flavours taste better too, apparently, but I have no idea how well proven this is.

Coming back to where we began: writing is a pleasure that, curiously, demands work to be earned. Dumb things are easy to write. Few people have experienced the pleasure that writing well affords. But that said, how does one ever know they have written well? Or that, in turn, they have actually experienced the greatest joy writing provides? There is, and will always be, that little hope that perhaps it can get even better and so we keep writing, as we have for centuries.

Read more essays in the journal