What is the value of writing?

As with all my previous reflections on my own writing, I suspect that there is a wide range of approaches to any one deceptively simple question such as ‘What is the value of writing?’

The motivations for writing and the gains for the writer, from writing, are two sides of the same coin. If a person writes predominantly for money then the value is measured in cash terms. If a person writes for pleasure then the value is measured in terms of satisfaction. If a person writes as catharsis then the value is measured in terms of some sense of relief.

Some writers describe what they do as a compulsion, a vocation, a calling that has to be responded to: Something that cannot be ignored. Maybe, for these, a sense of value is felt as the progress made, the word-count produced, the pages of text edited.

For others, writing is a form of work, a financially-aspirational form of self-employment. Value comes as income generated over and above outgoings expended. Value may also be linked to feelings of job-satisfaction, and a sense of balance or control.

Or maybe the motivation is the lure of fame, with value being put on celebrity status, public recognition, Facebook likes and Twitter followers.

For some, writing may be a way of dealing with personal demons; a righting of wrongs; a satisfying of troubles. Value is seen as resolution, or as retribution.

For me, at my age and stage of developments, I write for a number of reasons.

If there is the sense in which I can now think of myself as Geoff Bateson the Writer, I had better write something in order to sustain that self-definition. I have a set of mechanisms. There are a number of blogs for which I have committed to producing content. There is the ambition to produce several ebooks that are at least readable. There is my main website to post a steady flow of articles on – articles that need writing. I sketch out my planned writings for the next three or four months and chastise myself when I start to drift away from that loose schedule.

I do not write with the expectation of immediate income. I am realistic enough about the economics of writing to know that I need to put more energy into promotion of what I write if I have any vague hope of it selling in sufficient volumes to create a liveable income stream. Fortunately, I am at a stage where my pension-income adequately covers my modest outgoings so I no longer need to sell myself and my labour. At the same time there is a long-term economic plan.

I have lived through enough periods of high inflation to know that whilst I am financially comfortable now this may not necessarily be true in several years’ time. The plan is to produce a steady stream of ebooks, to put these on an electronic bookshelf in a virtual bookshop (in this case Amazon Kindle Store) and to take opportunities, as they arise, to tell people about them. By the way, in case you are interested, the current stock of books is at https://www.amazon.com/author/geoffbateson

The plan is to add to those already on sale (and which sell slowly and randomly) until there are, by say 2025, at least 10-12 books of very different kinds on that bookshelf. These will then be more heavily promoted in the hope that there is a broad enough range to appeal to many people, and that someone coming to buy one of the books might opt to go away with two or three of them. Any income that is generated might make my elderly care a bit more enjoyable – and that will be very valued.

Beyond this, the main reason for writing at the moment is two-fold.

I see what I write as being part of a fifteen year creative undertaking that (for want of a better working title) I call R:2025. The writings (blogs, website articles, ebooks) sit alongside some seminars, some visits, some links to art galleries etc – all connected to each other within a framework of personal interests and social concerns. A fuller exploration of R:2025 is available at http://thewordsthething.org.uk/?p=492 .

I am enthused by this as a new way of being, and as a new set of interests and motivations. At the same time, as well as any personal gains, I want more. I want the writing (and other) aspects of R:2025 to have public value for a network of readers some of whom will be people already working on the social issues I am myself interested in. The social value of this, for me, will emerge if any of these writings and other activities start to connect across and begin to influence the ways that others think about, and work on, those issues.

The other reason, for doing all this, is part of an approach to try to remain healthy and sustain individual well-being. One document linked to this was the report from the UK Foresight Report on Mental Capital and Wellbeing (www.foresight.gov.uk).

This reviewed recent evidence on the everyday actions that were important for wellbeing (both as feeling good and as functioning well). These were summarised within five areas:

  • Connecting with other people … investing in developing and sustaining links with family, friends, colleagues, others in the locality … building connections to enrich everyday activity …
  • Being active … taking appropriate levels of physical exercise … having reasons to get out and about …
  • Being curious … taking notice of things, being aware of surroundings and what you are doing … remarking on the unusual, or interesting … reflecting on experiences …
  • Learning … trying something different … puzzling and working things out … challenging yourself … pulling in new skills when needed or developing existing interests even further …
  • Giving time and energy to things … volunteering activity … supporting others … being able to feel that you are making a useful contribution …
  • I already had my own way of personal development planning – a loose framework that would satisfactorily get me to age 80. This was made up of broad intentions, reviewed fairly regularly, against headings such as:
  • Staying in touch with others; not getting isolated …
  • Staying mentally and physically healthy as far as was in my control …
  • Sustaining a set of interests – allowing me to be fully occupied …
  • Having an adequate level of financial security and stability …
  • Maintaining productive family relationships …
  • Taking regular breaks, holidays, ways of relaxing …
  • Staying aware of, and making appropriate use of, changes in technology …
  • Having reasons to do things, go places, join in with events …
  • Being in control of own time and stress …
  • Maintaining some credible reputation/sense of identity …
  • Being organised at home and at work (even where these overlapped) …From this perspective, writing holds personal value for me if it helps hold off mental decline, keeps me connected with people, gives me a reason to continue exploring thoughts and ideas, and gets me out and about (not just locally but, recently, to London, New York, Vancouver, and Whitehorse in Canada’s Yukon Territory).
  • Will things work out that way? They may; they may not. It is an ambition. That is good enough.
  • Bringing my long-standing personal development framework together with the five Foresight strands set me on a stronger path of transitioning from me as full-time city council employee to me as fully occupied, productively and happily, in quite different ways. In a sense it was a design project – outlining and testing a way of being. It enabled me to get a greater clarity – a larger degree of foresight – around what I might be and do with myself. Part of all of that was to write in a range of styles, for a variety of reasons, and with various different audiences in mind.

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