Nov 9, 2012

show and tell

(thoughts inspired by the writing challenge in November)

Ursula K LeGuinn once noted, in a reading I went to of hers, that writers have to write. The way she put it, she would have written if there were no pens and pencils, she would have carved icons in the sand.

What makes a writer? It is an interesting question. As an...artform, it is curious, because unlike most other arts, it requires much less craft to become mildly proficient. Anyone who can write a sentence has the potential to be become a writer, and most people, at least in modern society, can do this. Not so with an accordian or a paintbrush. I mean, yes, anyone can hold a paintbrush, but most people acknowledge a timeline in which they develop skills that allow them to express their intent.

If you can read this sentence then you can write this sentence and if you have something to say, then you may be a writer.

What does that mean? And does it matter; what that means?

There is something exquisite about creativity expressed through writing because it is so universally acceptable, from both ends. You don't need especially specialized skills to write a book, and as a result you will get a broader range of people expressing a broader range of experiences. And you don't need to be taught to appreciate it. I mean, yes, there are english classes, and a better command of the language allows better comprehension, but most readers I know read from an early age, before they were taught how to read, and how to analyze what they read.

But then there is also something annoying and almost painful amount the zillions of terrible books on thr shelves and the one hundred billion blogs out there and the reality that just about everyone considers themselves a writer. It is the easy ticket to considering yourself a creative person when all other arts fail you. It is a no brainer if you want to pretend you have something valuable to contribute to arts and literature.

And if you were brought up in an academic or success oriented culture a little bug might have been planted in your brain: someone told us that creativity was a sign of true intelligence, what seperated the mice from men, the automotons from the thinkers. And you were probably also told that getting your product out there mattered, if you were to matter. And so now you write because you can't sing, and you can't play the guitar and you can't even, really, craft all that well, and so here are 1,000 words to prove that I am using more than the lizard part of my brain. Here is a story to prove I am not just another...another boring smart kid who will take up oxygen and punch a time clock.

Look at me. I wrote some chapters of a story, and you can read it if you follow a link on the side bar.

And now I can sleep a little better.

What makes a writer? Does a writer do it for themselves because they can't not do it? And does a hack bust it out because their ego requires production?

I still don't know. And then I think of this: there are a few writers who wrote one or maybe a very few very fantastic books...and then never seemed to write again. Henry Roth. Robert Pirsig. Both wrote one book in their youth and another..about a zillion years later. Overwhelming insane books that are taught in classrooms.  And then there are people like Salinger, who some claim to have zillions of books in lock up, but who really knows.

Maybe there is no such thing as a writer so much as thoughts that have to come out, that year to be shared. And some will choose to do so in literature, and some will find, after hours with a pencil, that only a melody can express their true intent. Or a birdhouse. Or a building. Or a blog. Or a dimestore novel. That one with fabio on the cover and a fainting lady. Maybe, out there, somewhere, someone lived that story in their head and another person needed to read that story, especially that one paragraph, on page 135, when she had special part of the story to tell.

It is hard to judge creativity without being a snob.  Or it is impossible to judge creativity. Or we must judge creativity to know who we are and what speaks to us and what we choose to create. Or not.

As you can see, I don't have the answer.

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