Tues Jun 13 2023

The Writing Imperative

by e(Liz)abeth (Mars)ton

One of the highest barriers I’ve faced to becoming a writer has been what I’ll call “lunar mind”—a sort of implicit stance that evaluates value as utility, common in engineering fields.

When a thing is valuable for another thing, but not necessarily valuable in its own right, it has what moral philosophers call “instrumental value”, rather than intrinsic value. Like the light of the moon, it only illuminates because there is, at some remove, an actual sun, beaming out value it creates internally.

So, to write, you have to do a hard thing: shift your focus from ‘moons’ to ‘suns’.

Yet this is more difficult than it sounds, because it means braving epistemic instability. Things that are valuable for have value that is commonly recognizable, which makes that value ‘stable’: It is not volatile over time; it, generally, is not as different between different people; and, most importantly, it is easy to prove.

A hammer is always, and uncontroversially, useful for working with nails. And insofar is it is useful, it is good. By contrast, a bit of thoughtful prose (or, gasp, verse) might be good for some people some of the time; it might be good one week and less good the next; and it might be good for so-and-so to read, but useless to someone else.

Which is to say: the importance of ‘moons’ is far easier to reason about and agree upon than the importance of ‘suns’. ‘Moons’ are, if you will, closer to us, while ‘suns’ are, epistemically speaking, further away.

So in order to become a writer, you have to aim further away. You have to take a fundamental risk, and the risk is that your time spent writing was wasted, meaningless.

But, as is so often the case with risk, higher risk means higher reward.

If you can brave the possibility of having wasted your time, you can become a writer. You can reach for the sun.

Calligraphic embellishment of the name 'Liz'