In defense of purposeless writing

I have been wondering, like many a scattered soul on the blogosphere, about what it might mean to write aimlessly. By aimlessly I mean to write without a specific purpose such as to sell, to build a resume, to add to a larger work, or to vent.

When I browse posts in an unfiltered sort of way, without any express purpose as a reader, my idle meanderings make me speculate on a purpose (or perhaps the purpose) that writing serves in our lives.

Writing for pleasure of expression (not for a professional purpose) is a luxury that we can indulge in only in our most privileged of moments. And yet, it is the neglected foster child of our existence, to be pushed away, yet again, for something that is more important at the moment. A job-related activity, a networking event, an application, even a trip to the grocery store. Things that indeed cannot wait.

Writing, for those who want to write, always remains the older, more serious, responsible child that keeps sacrificing its demand on our time in preference for the screaming younger child–a daily activity in immediate need of attention or a larger goal that would provide us a long-term concrete benefit.

This situation does not simply apply to professionals or students who might be involved in a field far removed from writing activities. It also applies to people whose job itself is writing as well–novelists, academics, content writers, communications professionals. . .

When writing is a job, the writing which we do for ourselves disappears from our lives.

Many of us indulge in activities that have no proven benefits, at least in the near future. We go to places of worship, perform daily rituals, spend energy maintaining clothes and shoes we never use for years on end. But writing? It’s an activity to be indulged in at the very end of all others. It’s either too sombre a task or too inconsequential.

But increasingly, as I’ve been reading these idle meanderings, I’ve become more and more convinced that these pieces of expression might be one of the more defining moments of our lives. Our writing, in moments of idleness, defines us as we define our writing.

They are things that seep out of the open mind, and they need an open mind to read them.

For writing is about taking stock, about pausing, reflecting, reviewingΒ  our direction, even understanding ourselves. This is why the directionlessness is important–to let that mirror show ourselves , in the best way it can, who we are.

74 thoughts on “In defense of purposeless writing”

  1. “When writing is a job, the writing which we do for ourselves disappears from our lives.”

    Sadly true. Hence why I listen to that niggling *itch* in the head that has driven me to write since I first learned how to, aged 5-6. It was a primary school video about Victorian work houses; I saw the plight of kids young as myself, and though we re-enacted their lives in games afterwards, I still felt raw inside. So I asked my Ma to fold a few pages of paper to make a book; got a pencil and drew the pictures, and filled in the story below – how I wanted it to have ended for those kids (with escape, and wild free lives.) I haven’t looked back since πŸ™‚

    OK, yes I have. I’ve suffered anorexia for almost half my life now, as a result of feeling inadequate in the face of the world’s writing prowess – that nameless, faceless rival, which makes me buckle inside every time I sit before my laptop or pick up a pen.

    But the alternative, is to never write again. Anorexia waits in the shadows whenever I stop, to fill the void, because without writing, I am nothing. Whatever other people say.

    So as to professional writing – I know I’m a fragile ego. It’s something I hope to strengthen, so as to actually force myself forward, post to an agent, accept the criticism/rejection with good grace, step back and start again.

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  2. In defense of otherwise defenseless purposeless writing, a driven argument supporting such art is more than welcome! Writers, applaud and appreciate!

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  3. It’s funny how “aimless” writing is probably the most intentional writing we ever do. All the rest of our time and writing, as you pointed out, tends to be dictated by outer forces, but what makes this aimless writing meaningful is that it is the writing we choose to do. It lets us see who we really are when all the outer pressures that define us are removed.

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  4. Right said, bottledworder. Idle writing is when you get to be at your creative best. As long as we don’t start writing with blatant designs of fame and money, our words will weigh more than their worth in gold!

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  5. Interesting thoughts; am I in the minority that I find myself writing before other tasks then? Even though, as you say, writing is at the core of many menial tasks, writing for its own beautiful purpose is always appealing; always a lure away from mundanity; an escape into another realm, or indeed just a wander down a suddenly sighted path in the forest of my own thoughts. Thanks for stopping by Sounds of Time.

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  6. I have found it very exhilarating to blog everyday. I have to dig deep to think of something somewhat interesting to write about everyday. It’s usually aimless and rambling, but when I’m done, it feels good.

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  7. Sometimes I spread myself too thin with my writing outlets. Private journal by the bed, online private journal, a folder for freewriting, a blog of my own, notes for my actual writing work, articles, a novel… I like categories. But sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming. I feel guilty when one is neglected. Or, I want to put something into four categories, like a freewrite that would make a great blog post or article or what-have-you. Sometimes I just have to let go and remind myself that how I label that writing doesn’t matter. It’s writing all the same. If I neglect my journal for a month because I was into the novel that’s good, and vice versa. Just like the tides, my writing ebbs and flows, and it will do so in different forms. This is okay.

    Thank you for visiting my blog!

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  8. I loved this! It’s a symptom of our goal-oriented culture, this lack of play and freeform expression and meaningless, contemplative writing. For me, writing and life are both meant to be filled with joy and play; and without those unstructured moments, life’s joy is severely diminished. Cross posted on my writing and creatively blog, wyattgbessing.com!

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  9. ‘Our writing, in moments of idleness, defines us as we define our writing.’
    An interesting read. I have always found that during years of training & research, Reading for Pleasure is something I lose sight of… writing though, even when working on major projects I continue to scribble in journals, diaries & notebooks, it isn’t something that stops. Having said that I haven’t freelanced for 6 years, I have spent that time only writing for pleasure, for myself.

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  10. Love this post! I’ve pondered this aspect myself as I blog. I look at some of the blog posts I’ve written as conversations I have with readers, kind of like a conversation I might have with someone in a grocery store line. They’re valuable connections with people.

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  11. Warning, I think some Christians may dispute your idea of going to church as having no proven benefits, but that’s a whole different topic for another time. As for this post..it almost leads me to write one as to what is useless or puposeless writing because I don’t think any writing is useless. Be it for myself or for the enjoyment of others. I don’t consider it an idle past time because to construe thoughts into words and produce sentences, paragraphs, stories and memories..you are giving your brain happy and healthy.

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  12. Isn’t it funny how we tend to perceive something done purely for self-expression’s sake as purposeless? But I think writing is unique in the sense that this question seems to always accompany writing for one’s self. Photos taken for one’s self can still be shown to others, and dressing is taken as an act of self expression to the world. Do we regard writing differently because so much of it is never shared? Think of the journal entries you never show to anyone… Perhaps blogs are the modern way of infusing writing for one’s self with a formal “purpose.”

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  13. I really enjoyed reading this because it amply captures anyone who appreciates the written language and the joy of writing itself. I’ve found a renewed sense of joy in writing because of blogging and through that, I believe wholeheartedly in writing what you want (aside from the tedium of the working life in which you must write as work dictates). Getting published is nicety, not a necessity…I’m not bound to the almighty dollar and as such, I get to express myself in a way that feels freeing. Words are an artform to me and through it, I get to be wonderfully and creatively…me.

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  14. Profound observation. . .I use directionless writing, as in my last post, to spur myself, to show myself I can write, even to no evident purpose. . .It’s a very freeing exercise, if I do say so myself. . .Thanks for understanding, in a very indirect direct way. . .

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  15. The timing of your post is ironic for me as I have lamented at being unable to freely write for the last two days because of my job as a writer…I have written almost constantly for the last 48 hours and yet have achieved nowhere near the harmony of just two seconds of free flowing verbiage, devoid of significance, meaning or direction.
    Keep writing for no other reason than to have written.

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  16. nice saying…
    for me, i’m writing coz i love to. you can see in my blog that… many things i’ve posted and one thing for sure… i write for my ‘fun’ side

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  17. This is really interesting to me. When I wrote crappy things for a living, I feel like I ended up with much more to say on my blog and on other people’s blogs. Now that I work in another field, I end up finding it harder to do writing. But at the same time, I’ve been writing songs, which gets the words and ideas out in a different form. It’s an interesting balance and process to see how my awareness of “this is what I should write down!’ sort of gets smaller as my awareness of other things grows. I finally made a post today after several weeks..even perhaps a month..and it felt so good!

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    1. I agree that free writing has answers to a lot of things; but if you’re using it that way, is it really purposeless? I’ll often find that randomly writing about a problem I have at work leads me towards a solution.

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  18. Thank you for this.I loved this sentence:” For writing is about taking stock, about pausing, reflecting, reviewing our direction, even understanding ourselves.” It’s true.

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    1. Can writing also be about understanding where we come from? I’m thinking of the way that what we write is made up, in part, by what we have read before and what has been read to us. Much of this belongs to a body of writings — a certain community of text, as it were. So, inherently, our ‘origins’ are present in our writing, too.

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  19. For me, “purposeless” writing about a topic I choose at that moment is like training my brain to think of a premise and write until it resolves itself. I see it as good practice until the moment comes where I need to write for a “purpose”. In that moment, because I have been training and practising, it will be easier to perform. Just like I practice music and singing for no purpose but when someone says”oh, you’re a singer. Sing me something” you are able to do it naturally because you have practiced. Practice is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.

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  20. I still don’t know why I write, but since starting this I am beginning to think in words. That came out funny…but you know what I mean when I am in a situation I think “mmm how would I write about this?” Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t, depends on the day.

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  21. I’d say calling it “purposeless” is a bit harsh. I write for the sole purpose of entertainment (both for myself and for those who would read me), and I think it’s a very valid purpose, even if it’s not overly transcendental. Saying it has no purpose makes it sound like a waste of time, and it’s not >_>

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  22. Much of my writing is purposeless in the sense you’re using the word, since my blog is not job-related in any way. I write because I love to write (or take photos because I love to take photos) and there seems to be an audience for it. I love the connection it gives me with people who follow my blog and turn comments into conversations, conversations into friendships and sometimes even into actual meetings. Blogging may turn into something “more” at some point but for now, I love being purposeless!!

    janet

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  23. I needed to read a post just like this. So glad you laid this point out: “When writing is a job, the writing which we do for ourselves disappears from our lives.” YES.
    -s

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  24. I do a lot of what you’re referring to as purposeless writing. Some of the better pieces I’ve ever created started out this way. Wait! You should see my purposeless poetry! πŸ™‚

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  25. There are two kinds of purposeless writing activities I indulge in. One is freewriting, a kind of warm up before I start my work of the day. The other is automatic writing, when I’m stuck for ideas. I just try to channel something, anything from my subconscious.
    I enjoy both.
    The day I stop enjoying writing is the day I stop.

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  26. Purposeless writing is what developed for me into a novel that I am really excited about, now 44 chapters in. What comes out of your subconscious when you’re not looking can be alarming and lovely.
    –Julie

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