Thursday, April 23, 2015

Does Writing Have a Future?

Does Writing Have a Future?

It’s hard to say. I’m inclined to say that it does not have a future; that is, whatever you may be working on right now does not exist in a future moment. Instead, writing (as with anything else) only exists in a series of present moments. You don't write later: you write now. A text isn't read later; it's read right now. I wrote this blog post in one series of present moments, and you're reading it in another series of present moments.

Thus the notion that writing is a type of communication that persists into the future should be reconsidered.

I'm suggesting a radical groundlessness for writing: that writing is never done outside the present moment.

It’s tricky to make this claim because what makes writing normally seem worthwhile is its very promise of an impact or connection to the future. The benefits of writing seem to occur in the future. They’re like promises or payment for our efforts—we tolerate the isolation, uncertainty, and other challenges of working on a text because of its long-term consequences. Writing contracts out the future because it says it will put us in touch with others, allowing us to express. Writing may also indicate a future for our efforts by suggesting that we have a responsibility to others, that we may persuade, inform, or help readers. Saying there’s no future for writing will threaten some people by depriving them of the long-term fruits of their efforts, and it will vex others who insist that writing is a moral activity, one with consequences.

Nevertheless, it’s as Janis Joplin crooned, “Tomorrow never comes.”

We only entertain conceptions of the future. Thoughts about the future stock each present moment of consciousness, along with thoughts about the past and evaluations (pleasant, unpleasant, neutral). But are conceptions of the future synonymous with an actual future moment? What we predict will not align 100% with actuality. It’s only a best guess—a guess that’s usually founded on some pretty questionable motives and reasons. Our subjectivity provide us with all sorts of distortions of ourselves and of others.

On the other hand, denying that I have future responsibilities is rash.

For instance, if I don’t buy groceries at 2 o’clock, my choice will have a definite impact on the future well-being of my children, who need me to take steps right now (shop for food) that have bearing on the future (their supper). The Buddhists believed in consequences—just think of karma. If all beings are interconnected, if we are not to invest too much independence around single things, then so too are different moments connected, and a present circumstance is affected by a past one. The act of writing is also a compilation of past and future responses from other people, and when we write, our efforts are often colored with the desire to meet future audience expectations or squelch past criticism.

In the end, I maintain that it’s vastly more helpful to most writers much of the time to act as though their writing does not have a future. Most of us have spent the majority of our time as writers off the present, thinking of elsewhere and imagining future responses to work that we haven’t finished—or even begun.

Developing a writing practice that is present-oriented can help us treat writing as low-stakes, as generative, as a source of fascination, as a form of self-respect, as a means for contentment and tranquility. The present does not have deadlines, rubrics, or formatting expectations. The present is fundamentally a private moment, a temporary experience to which we’re all entitled.