How do You Define Writing? It Goes Deeper Than You Think


How do you define writing? We may not often think of this question, but it is one well worth exploring. It can be as simple as inscribing a mark on a surface for someone else to understand.

Put another way writing "is a system of graphic symbols that can be used to convey meaning” (Nordquist).

"A blank piece of paper is God's way of telling us how hard it is to be God."
--Sidney Sheldon

One of the earliest forms of writing is the hieroglyphs found on the walls of ancient Egyptian temples. They convey meaning in graphic symbols and pictures.

How do you define writing? Writing is a necessary component for the advancement of a civilized society. Let’s take a look at the origin of writing.

Initially, some researchers felt that writing spread from Mesopotamia to Egypt. Clay tablets from Mesopotamia, dating back to 3000 B.C., revealed writing. Yet in 1995, an Egyptologist, Dr. John Coleman Darnell from Yale University, found a clay tablet with the story of King Scorpion written on it. He found the tablet in the desert west of the Nile River; it dates back to 3250 B.C., 150 years earlier than the Mesopotamia tablets.

Dr. Darnell and many of his colleagues feel that the first writing came from Egypt.    Also here dating back to 1800 B.C., Dr. Darnell found what may be the first example of alphabetic writing. (Bryant)

How do You Define Writing?
Can it be Defined as a Tool?


"If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster." --Isaac Asimov

In ancient times, it became necessary for people to communicate with others in their society. Here's a researcher who gives us a view of how and why writing evolved:

As populations grew and societies formed, writing became a useful tool to help people keep track of things. As rulers of these populations came into prominence, they demanded that their customs, laws, and rituals be recorded. Once a system of recording history was put into place, there was no looking back. Man learned that having an official record of something was important to ensure its legitimacy, and as a result, writing is now regarded as the dividing line between pre-history and history. After writing became standard for recording history, accounting, and keeping track of trade, literature was born, with the inscription of oral stories. (Bryant)

As we can see writing evolved due to necessity. And it became an effective tool in recording transactions and history.

How do you define writing? As a means of communication, it needs to be clear. If not, there is a price to pay.

Recall the 1974 movie Young Frankenstein. Dr. Frederick Frankenstein sent his hunchbacked assistant, Igor, to the Brain Depository to get a brain for the doctor’s creation. But Igor dropped and broke the jar containing the brain he was supposed to bring back. This brain was labeled H. Delbruck, a scientist and saint. Igor then gave the doctor the jar with another brain in it. But Igor, not proficient in reading the label, thought it belonged to someone named Abby Normal, when it was actually labeled Abnormal.

The lack of communication in this case caused much misery to the doctor, the monster, the townspeople, and any others involved in this story. Misinterpretation in the form of the written word or speaking has caused all of us heartache at some point.  Going forward, we need to make sure our communication is clear. Mistakes are easy to make, consequences disastrous.

"Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time--proof that humans can work magic." ―Carl Sagan

How do you Define Writing?
Let's Get Another Perspective

It is through the beginning efforts of the people of the Mesopotamia and Egyptian eras that we can now communicate with each other in a meaningful way.

Deciphering symbols and marks on a surface, inform us that “writing is the act of composing a text” (Nordquist). 

It’s a system of communication, using various means of symbols and tools in which as we advance as a society. We pay it forward by honing our writing skills, refining them constantly according to our current set of rules and regulations on writing.

Ever wonder what writing will be like in the future? Already we see that artificial intelligence has come upon the scene. It helps to make writing faster. We feed it our ideas, press a button, and it gives us printed information or images. It promises to make communication swifter and clearer. We shall see how it weaves itself into our lives going forward.

The image below is a product of A.I. It created a picture from the words I requested from it. This is how it defined writing.

Writing symbols

Image: Dream by Wombo

Nordquist. "The Meaning and Nature of Writing." ThoughtCo, 3 July 2019,

Bryant, Charles. "How Did Language Evolve?" HowStuffWorks, 29 Apr. 2021,

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