Monday, May 18, 2009

I do it for the sake of humanity.

Vicki here, answering the question Why do I write?

I have to admit that I have no overwhelming need to write. No particular drive. I don’t do it behind closed doors, or in curtained partitions. I don’t go gaga if denied the opportunity to write. If I can’t write... I don’t.

I guess I do it because it’s fun and I like it. Sorry. Not even the overwhelming desire for fame and fortune forces me to put fingers to keyboard (and if that had been my motivation I would have given up a long time ago).

As I was preparing this confessional missive, to prove, once and for all, that I am a frivolous writer, I happened upon a discussion about a book titled The Origin of Stories by Brian Boyd at

Boyd argues that we write because it is an evolutionary imperative.

when we create and share stories with each other, we build and reinforce the cooperative bonds within groups of people (families, tribes, towns, nations), making those groups more cohesive and in time allowing human beings to lord it over the rest of creation.”

Stories, even made up stories, help us to negotiate the social world in which we, the most social of all species, live.

The book argues that “Fiction also fosters a part of cognition known as the "theory of mind," one person's understanding that another person has feelings, desires, intentions and beliefs, the latter of which may or may not be correct.”

Which happens to be a point that I have often made about the vital importance of reading versus other leisure activities such as watching TV or going to the movies or listening to our iPod. Only by reading do we actually get to step into another person’s head. We can watch a movie, and identify with the character, understand his/her motivations, root for the hero, but we are still outsiders, as we are in real life. We are observing that person, we are not that person. I’m reading Hard Rain by Barry Eisler at the moment. As I read that book, written in the first person POV of a hired assassin, I AM the assassin. I am watching over my shoulder constantly, checking every step I make, contently planning an escape route, trusting no one. I can break a man’s neck with a twist of my hand.

Will I ever have to know those skills here in Prince Edward County, Ontario?

Probably not. And if I had to, I’d forget them all in an instant. But my point is, and I think the point of Boyd’s book, is that I have an insight into a portion of humanity that I would not otherwise ever be able to have. And that insight helps to forge the social bonds that are essential for the survival of humanity.

I now know why I write: I do it for the good of the human race.

You can thank me later.


Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you on your comments about reading vs movies, etc. There's nothing like reading a well-written book to make you feel like you ARE the character, living his adventures vicariously!

Well said.

Denis Dutton said...

Nice point. Scroll down here for a radio interview with Boyd:

Denis Dutton