Listen to Pilot Light

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Writing--the tough racket

Writing well is a tough racket and good writing often doesn't come easily.

I think that literature, which to me means good and important writing, should be about life. The treatment can be humorous or serious, but it should provide some insights into life. They don't have to be profound, but they have to be there. But insight first demands sight. That means that the writing job begins with observation. The observations are digested, then used in writing. With luck the subconscious provides some better thoughts based on the observations than our dull conscious mind comes up with, and that the writer manages to tap into those while getting the story down. When the writing accurately represents honest observations, and demonstrates true human qualities on a fictional stage, there is a chance, a small chance, that we have produced something worthy of being called literature.

As an aside, it's just another damn word, of course, that literature term, but you have to believe in something, and if you want to communicate, you need to express it somehow. The idea of literature as something that provides a bit more than other writing, has persisted for a long time and I hope it holds its meaning for a while longer. I think I need it.

So it is quite a rough racket, this business of writing literature. All this seeing and thinking and trying to understand cuts into the limited time available for thinking and writing, and so it competes with itself for the only resources a writer has--a brain, energy and time. I find it all too easy to wrap myself deep inside a novel or story and forget to come up for air, much less to observe.

I suppose it is possible to write entirely from a strictly intellectual perspective, to write well, to write accurately and honestly, relying on nothing but your own logic and emotion. Yet, it strikes me that such a limitation will flatten the work. An author might produce one such work, but subsequent books would be imitations of the first--the same material written about as freshly as possible. It gets difficult not to repeat yourself.

My theory is that we who write to sell, write to be read need to dig deep enough to offer the reader characters with a variety of emotions and feelings. It isn't easy, but a book must honestly represent characters and ideas that he or she disagrees with or even finds disagreeable. And it is in honesty that so many of us stumble. When the reader encounters a two-dimensional cardboard representation of something complex and astoundingly three dimensional, it is because the writer hasn't taken the time (or had the interest, perhaps) to explore and understand what he or she is writing about.

Exploration and understanding are two writing tools that don't get used nearly enough. But then writing is a tough racket.