When we write with the professed hope of helping others, I suspect that many of us are really writing for our former selves. The intention to help others is generous; it keeps us motivated and sanctions the huge time investment that writing requires. But what we are writing is the book we wish we had read during our own trying, formative experience. Writing for one’s self seems selfish, so we obscure our real motivation with the altruistic desire to help others. In fact, writing for one’s self is noble. Each of us is worthy of that generosity. When we return to a difficult period with care and attention that writing requires, healing happens. Writing connects personal suffering to human suffering, teaching us that we are not alone.
Writing for ourselves, or for our former selves, is more than just a therapeutic exercise. It’s essential for writing well. Writing is far too strenuous-too solitary, too sedentary, too emotionally demanding-to sustain if the writer does not somehow benefit from the process. Unfortunately, the benefit rarely comes in the form of money or recognition. We don’t live in a culture that values the contemplative remembering or the imaginative labor of making art. And even when our work is publicly received and financially compensated, this recognition rarely satisfies the more profound needs that drive us to write. Love of the grueling work itself, or of the insights that come with it, is necessary to sustain us.
From “Writing the Sacred Journey: The Art and Practice of Spiritual Memoir” by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew Skinner House