The Two Tasks of The Writer

Writing, as complex a discipline and varied an art form as it is, seeks to accomplish two tasks. Sometimes it must do one, sometimes the other, and often both. The two tasks are these:

Say what others are thinking better than they are thinking it.

Say what others are not yet thinking but ought to be.

Say what others are thinking better than they are thinking it.

“Better” can mean many things. It can mean stating things with more clarity or artfulness. It can mean expressing something beautifully instead of boringly. It can mean clarifying confusion or restating for emphasis. It can mean using force to drive home an ignored point.

Regardless, the task of the writer is to notice what is subpar or incomplete in people’s thinking and fill it or improve it in some way. Such writing avoids being derivative or dry. It is true because anything false cannot be “better.” And by writing in this manner the writer often begins to accomplish the second task.

Say what others are not yet thinking but ought to be.

Often the means by which a writer can improve a reader’s thinking is by providing a missing piece or a missing story or a missing feeling. Sometimes this task is a delightful one as readers accept the writer’s work as a gift. Other times it is an exercise in persistence and persuasion. Writing deftly and with craft makes a difference because it can fashion work that fits just so into the gap in a reader’s mind.

Stories create worlds and contexts that draw the reader to places they’ve never even imagined and concepts they never considered. Poems turn common experiences or unexpressed feelings over to view the underside or see them from a different angle so readers see what they couldn’t before. Non fiction can build a case, make an argument, unearth findings, explain the befuddling, or describe afresh. Regardless, good writing fills a gap for the reader and puts a puzzle piece in place to help complete the picture of wisdom and understanding.

For the writer the key is to notice and to think. Can you see what others don’t? That is the key to the best writing. Put those noticings into words and you will complete the first task for some, the second task for others, and both tasks for many. The more you do this – notice, think, write – the better you will get and the more adept you will become at both these tasks.