A Writer in a World Without Written Language

Last week, I asked fellow writers what they would do if they weren’t writers. Which got me wondering what I would do if I wasn’t a writer—if that wasn’t an option in our world.

All other things being the same, I think my dream job would be as a genealogist. I love digging around in the past so much, that I get as excited when I help other people do their family lines as when I do mine! So I think that would be my job: professional genealogist. I have no idea how you get to be a professional, but I certainly have logged thousands of “in the field” hours doing my own research!

But, since I am a writer, I took my mental musings a bit farther. What if I lived in a world with no written language? Then what? Genealogy research is based on documentation, which of course would not exist with no written language.

I don’t think I could be an oral storyteller, mostly because I dislike being the center of attention. And I would love to be the keeper of a family history, but my brain turned to mush at age 40 and I would have had to pass it on to the next generation already. So what to do in my retirement?

Keep in mind that a society without a written language does not necessarily have to be a backwards, primitive society. I expect that we would have evolved a different method of preserving and passing on information—likely a visual medium. So our stories would be long, elaborate films or series instead of books. Our non-fiction would be preserved in pictures and videos of lectures and speeches and documentaries. Music would have more weight, as songs would likely convey information instead of simply being “pop culture.”

In a world like that, what would I be? I would still be what I am, a storyteller, only I would have to use the visual medium of the day to tell my stories. I would have to learn to interweave the visual and the aural and the symbolism into a work of art on the screen. Which shouldn’t be too hard—many authors are visual thinkers anyway and many use music to set the mood as they write.

So I would be a visual storyteller. Which is kind of ironic, because in a previous life—before full-time writer, before Mommy—I was an award-winning video editor.

Funny how you can never escape what you really are.


  1. Kerry I think I would be visual storytell er too – seems like a real imprint to be left behind..not just in words “out there” to be passed on and easily changed. The pictures would not be altered and live on forever.

  2. “Funny how you can never escape what you really are.” – So true. A writer will always find a way to “write” something, even if it’s just their own life path. I think being a genealogist would be so interesting! I’ve thought about that before.

    • The funny thing is, I think I love the genealogy because of all the stories that go along with all the people you dig up. Almost all of them have interesting lives, some truly incredible. So again it becomes a case of not escaping what you really are!

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