In Defense of the Invisible Writer

We see the world through an odd-shaped lens.

We are observers, watching and waiting for moments of significance that we can connect to concepts and form into new realities.  Yet we are often unseen.

Sometimes it is because we escape to a secluded place in order to do this work–the irony being that in order to capture the essence of lived experience we must remove ourselves from it.

Yet, even when visible we remain unseen as conversations inevitably turn to writing as grammar and punctuation, writers as mere trivializers of experience and writing itself as mere trifles. A conversation with a young math and science scholar reveals the devaluation of all things English. “Science,” he says, “is useful. We can learn things about the body, about the physical world, but in English classes we only talk about words and ideas. It is a waste of time.”

Really?

How else would scientists discuss the body and the physical world if not through language? How else would history and psychology be studied and understood if not verbally or in writing? Beyond that, how else would individuals know how to express their thinking on these subjects clearly if there were no discussions about writing and thinking?

Too often intellectuals, in a hurry to get to their destinations, disregard the vehicles that carry them there. Yet, I suppose, if those vehicles broke down they might miss them and, perhaps, then take note of the craftsmanship that made those vehicles run. The same is true of writing and the mastery of language. They are the vehicles by which knowledge is both generated and shared. The study of writing and how it is produced and perfected is not a waste of time, but a science in and of itself. Certainly it will not interest everyone, but neither should it be dismissed as unimportant. We use language everyday. We rely on it to conduct  our business–it is not relegated to the classroom and neither are the principles that are learned there.

Yet, the invisible writer is not necessarily a bad thing. The fact that writing is taken for granted may also be a credit to the skill that is employed by writers who produce such good work that they disappear! The slogans on your cereal box, the catchy phrases splashed on the wall at Zaxby’s, even the clever little phrases on the Taco Bell hot sauce packets were the work of an invisible creative mind. The application forms you fill out for employment, the instructions you rely on to assemble your new gadget, the news you follow on social networks–all the work of a writer you will never know. When the writing is bad, the vehicle breaks down and you wonder about the craft, but when the information flows there’s no thought to the work that went into every jot and tittle.

But believe me, it is work. The words don’t appear magically. It is by blood, sweat and tears that the vehicle is constructed. It is not only in coal factories that work is done, but also in coffee shops, in quiet corners, at raggedy desks in lonely buildings once students have fled and janitors are sweeping through the hallways. Invisible writers tap away at keyboards reflecting on the world they’ve observed, trying to make sense of the chaos, hoping to reshape meaningless moments into objects that can sit in the mouth like peppermint—sweet, refreshing, enlivening—and leave a pleasant, lasting impression even after they disappear.

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Photo by Alexa Mazzarello on Unsplash

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