National Writing Project

Why I Write: David Deutsch Writes to Clarify and Learn

Date: October 17, 2011

Summary: David Deutsch, an Oxford physicist and author of several novels about different theories of the universe, views writing as a creative way to clarify his thoughts, so he worries that a rigid, structured curriculum in some schools could stifle the kind of writing he values.


I write only when I have something to say that I think is very interesting—at least to someone. Often the "someone" is just me, in which case I'm writing in order to learn and to clarify my ideas.

Indeed, there is a strong component of learning whenever I write, and so what I have to say often changes a great deal while I am writing it. But writing is only one of many ways of clarifying one's ideas, so I often set a piece aside for years before returning to it. Most pieces that I start, I never finish. Consequently I publish infrequently and at irregular intervals, and hardly ever succeed in meeting deadlines or specifying a synopsis in advance.

This is why the idea of supporting writing in school curricula rings all sorts of alarm bells in my mind. Instituting such a curriculum must entail, by definition, making students write at moments when they have nothing to say that addresses any problem of their own or interests anyone else. It necessitates imposing deadlines and grading the results according to a standard that someone else has decided in advance.

The skill of "writing" in that sense may, I suppose, be useful in certain types of unpleasant situations. But it is only tenuously connected with the very different thing, also called "writing," that is so useful and enjoyable to me.

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About the Author David Deutsch is the author of The Fabric of Reality and The Beginning of Infinity. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society and a Visiting Professor of Physics at the Centre for Quantum Computation at the University of Oxford.

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