How to write with purpose

They say: grab them with a hook early. Get them with that first sentence, then reel them in. Build momentum word by word. Keep that momentum throughout your first paragraph, and then your first page, and hopefully for your entire first and second and third book and your memoir and those short stories that have been piling up and begging to be anthologized.

The momentum means the pages are turning. It means the words— your words— are being consumed . They are interesting, at least enough. They are enough, at least for now. Every time you type a mark of punctuation, it signals to the reader to group words into phrases — this helps with processing. These signals are key. With every tiny period is a chance to lose your hold; with every semicolon the odds of being misunderstood increase.

And yet you still write. You write through obscurity and you write through being misunderstood, and you reread your own words and you think about where you lost them or failed to gain them. You keep writing, and you hope that they keep reading, or that they will start to soon.

Saying you are a writer is claiming you have things to say that other people want to hear. This is a bold claim to make. It is a claim of self-importance. It is a considered certainty. It has to be. Otherwise you wouldn’t be able to keep scribbling and sharing and trying. It is time consuming and thankless, at least until you can reach someone with your words the way other words have been able to reach you.

I have a framed quote sitting on my writing desk. Framed, unhung, and sitting just to the right of where my eyes fall on my screen while I type. I have read these words over and over, but I don’t read them all the time. I am reminded of them as I write. I see them out of the corner of my eye, and I am reminded. They are why I continue to type, sometimes, when I start to lose focus. They say:

There’s a kind of Ah-ha! Somebody at least for a moment feels about something or sees something the way that I do. It doesn’t happen all the time. It’s these brief flashes or flames, but I get that sometimes. I feel unalone, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually. I feel human and unalone and that I’m in a deep, significant conversation with another consciousness in fiction and poetry in a way that I don’t with other art.

David Foster Wallace said these words, and I have felt this way. I have read words like flashes or flames — these precise, unique, pieces of familiar feelings, written in an unfamiliar hand. I seek them out when I read, and I highlight them when I find them. I hold onto these words; they inspire every letter I type.

I am a writer. This means I think I have things to say that other people want to hear. It is a claim of self-importance, but it’s also so much more. I want to connect with other people through my writing. I want to help others feel human and unalone, the way other writers have helped me feel human and unalone. And that’s all there is to it.

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