Anaïs Nin: Writing to Find Meaning in Life

Anais Nin

Anaïs Nin (1903-1977) embodied the practice of writing as a grand passion and a path to delving deeply into the self. In this sense she foreshadowed the immediacy of today’s world of self-revelatory memoir and blogging.

Best known for her multi-volume Diary of Anaïs Nin, which became a touchstone of feminist thought, she also broke ground as a writer of female erotica, and was a splendid essayist as well. For Nin, writing was as necessary as breathing. Here are some of her thoughts on the subject.

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Write to find meaning

“Writing to me means thinking, digging, pondering, creating, shattering. It means getting at the meaning of all things; it means reaching climaxes; it means moral and spiritual and physical life all in one.

Writing implies manual labor, a strain on one’s conscience and an exercise of the mind … Yes, my life flows into ink! And I am pleased. For I can live others’ lives without incurring the danger of smothering my inner thought life.” (The Early Diaries of Anaïs Nin, 1921)

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Write to create a world of your own

“Why one writes I can answer easily, having so often asked it of myself. I believe one writes because one has to create a world in which one can live. I could not live in any of the worlds offered to me — the world of my parents, the world of war, the world of politics.

I had to create a world of my own, like a climate, a country, an atmosphere in which I could breathe, reign, and recreate myself when destroyed by living. That, I believe, is the reason for every work of art.” (The Diaries, Volume 5)

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Write to transcend life and reach beyond it

“We write to lure and enchant and console others. We write to serenade our lovers. We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection. We write, like Proust, to render all of it eternal, and to persuade ourselves that it is eternal. We write to be able to transcend our life, to reach beyond it.

We write to teach ourselves to speak with others, to record the journey into the labyrinth. We write to expand our world when we feel strangled, or constricted, or lonely.

We write as the birds sing, as the primitives dance their rituals. If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.

When I don’t write, I feel my world shrinking. I feel I am in a prison. I feel I lose my fire and my color. It should be a necessity, as the sea needs to heave, and I call it breathing.” (In Favor of the Sensitive Man and Other Essays, 1976)

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Anaïs Nin Quotes

Anaïs Nin’s Diaries: From the Personal to the Universal
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Write to get better at expressing yourself

“I didn’t have any particular gift in my twenties. I didn’t have any exceptional qualities. It was the persistence and the great love of my craft which finally became a discipline, which finally made me a craftsman and a writer.

The only reason I finally was able to say exactly what I felt was because, like a pianist practicing, I wrote every day. There was no more than that. There was no studying of writing, there was no literary discipline, there was only the reading and receiving of experience…

So I would like to remove from everyone the feeling that writing is something that is only done by a few gifted people…You shouldn’t think that someone who achieves fulfillment in writing and a certain art in writing is necessarily a person with unusual gifts. I always said it was an unusual stubbornness.

Nothing prevented me from doing it every night, after every day’s happenings.” (“The Personal Life Deeply Lived” – a lecture, 1975)

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Write out of a deep inner necessity

“…You don’t write for yourself or for others. You write out of a deep inner necessity. If you are a writer, you have to write, just as you have to breathe, or if you’re a singer you have to sing.

But you’re not aware of doing it for someone. This need to write was for me as strong as the need to live. I needed to live, but I also needed to record what I lived. It was a second life, it was my way of living in a more heightened way.”  (“The Artist as Magician,” interview, 1973)

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