In yesterdays post I pointed to a blog by Aly Hughes that I had found, in particular a post on writing for yourself vs writing for others. Aly’s article was interesting and has valid points, to the extent that we’ve posted a few comments back at each other on the subject. I guess you can say she achieved her discussion objective on that posting. One point I was keen to raise to her was about the snobbishness in writing. This was also interesting to me in that I hadn’t realised it bothered me that much until raising it. I was not having a go at Aly here, I like Aly’s points, but more having a pointed disagreement over subject matter contained within an article she had linked to. This article was “Why you should write first for yourself“. On the whole this article is interesting, and I can understand the viewpoint, even if the article is written in a tone which would suggest this is the correct way, rather than a way, or one of many ways. This was not a great start, we’re not learning open heart surgery here. It was however, one line in particular that made me curl up inside, the line “If you are truly communicating — and not merely entertaining — you need to challenge people.”
Here I will summarise some of the comments I made (albeit in a different order):
- He (referring to the article author Jeff Goins) states “If you are truly communicating — and not merely entertaining — you need to challenge people.” – Well no, you are not, there is no such thing as “truly communicating”. You either communicate or you do not. You do not have to challenge people to communicate, that is just a form of communicating, a form there is nothing wrong with, and I’m certainly not against challenging people. But context please, people can communicate while entertaining. The Dan Brown book “The Da Vinci code” is a good example. Personally I don’t think it much more than a reasonable, if totally nonsense thriller. However it did get people talking and interested in the (fictional) theories, and what might be. That in a simple form, however much some people, myself included, are not fond of Dan Brown, is communicating.
I then went on to discuss two (fairly general) alternative ways of writing:
- I think you can write a more mainstream novel if you wish that may be less layered in technique and more writing to genre. It might be writing to the dollar (or not) but it’s just another form of writing. I suppose that could also be fun, not everyone can be the most technical and literate writer no matter how much they write. Not everyone wants to be transformed, they may just want some time away from their lives.There is nothing wrong with being entertained.
- On the other hand of course it is nice to have something less mainstream and a bit more of the writer in it. It is nice to read something that seems more personal, or more difficult. It’s nice to read something with the rhythms of language. But It is just something different.
Which led back to:
- If you are learning it can be fun to play with different styles of writing e.g. story, diary, factual, viewpoint, and so on. You can gain different lessons or inspirations by doing this. What I think is that if you want to learn to write, or to improve yourself and your writing, you need to avoid the snobbish part of writing. That there is some kind of imaginary scale with amazingly technical and heartfelt writing at the top and some kind of plot driven thriller near the bottom.
- So I say as a person writing, and also trying to improve, and find my voice if you like, just like you are, that we need to try and avoid the snobbishness in writing… Writing for yourself is cool, definitely a good way of trying to find “the soul” of a piece, however we all need to find the angle that works for us… people read in different ways. Some people just don’t read for the beauty of the language, or the rhythm, they just want to get caught up in a plot or a character. There is beauty in that too.
And therein lies the point of it all. There are many ways to communicate in writing. Take this example. Lets pretend someone writes a note on what two teens are discussing and planning for the weekend. One writes with perfect grammar, chooses wonderful concrete words, has a rhythm to the syllables, a tone to the words. The other writes a more “street” style. The is less perfect grammar, plenty of slang, language similar to texting lexicon (“yr” for “your”, etc), and some very specific concrete words drawing on a particular context. Which one is best?
One person might choose the former, as the style suits them, they wish to read for a love of the language, and it’s written form. Another might choose the latter. It might be more difficult to read for some people, but it may ring true, The lexicon, and dialogue put you right there into how the situation is or might be, it might appear more “real”. So which one is better, which one has more value? Well of course it comes down to your own viewpoint, how you wish to evaluate it and what criteria you invoke. They both could have value in different ways, and both suit a different context better. What would grate me would be the person who explains that the former is better just because the technical ability appears better, or at least in form and structure. The person that explains this view point using the words “need” and “only”. The person who brings the snob with them.
Now I should add here that I have a bit of the writers snob in me myself. I have corrected peoples grammar and spelling in emails, Facebook updates etc, so I’m not without my blame myself. I would however try and justify my actions to you the reader by stating that I merely try to correct where people have gone wrong or do not have the ability to spot their mistakes when they are likely not trying to make them. Or that is what I say. I have no qualms with people who do this deliberately as a style choice. As mentioned above, you may wish to write with a commanding grip on the beauty of the language, the poet in story form, to be one of the greats of literature and so on, but you may lack the ability. You may just want to write a crisp crime novel with good characters and dialogue and there is value in that too (see Elmore Leonard, a clever “minimalist” writer, and a master in dialogue, would you say he cannot write? I doubt it). You may have the ability for both, none of the ability for either, or a quest to achieve one of them.
Taking on such a quest as a new writer, unless you seem to have been born with a talent for it, which most of us don’t have, how are you supposed to learn? Why is one way better than the other? Why is one truly communicating? Well the answer(s) are relative. Unless you wish to be snobbish about it and stand by your criteria like a mother grizzly bear defending her newborn cubs, then no way is better. Neither is truly communicating, they either communicate, or do not. So I say let us try to avoid that snobbishness in writing. Write for yourself if you want to, write for an audience if you want to. I will give Jeff Goins some credit here, writing for yourself (especially whilst learning) does have a lot of value, it does help teach you how to put a little something extra in there, a little soul if you like. If you get it right it can add a little authenticity. Or bog it down. You might not be as interesting as you think you are, so editing is a key factor here, you need to serve your story, so to speak.
There is not one way of doing things, There is no completely right way. There are many rules that govern good writing, whichever form you choose, it is good to learn them, to get a basic framework down, a baseline, just somewhere to start from. But they can be broken, twisted, spun, re-worked, re-engineered, changed, or just written a little differently (e.g. starting a sentence with “but”, or repeating words). Many of the great writers do this. You may need to master the basics before doing this but it is not the only way, so I repeat, Let us cut out the snobbishness in writing. Let us not make grand statements on what writing should, or must be. Let us share our knowledge and our frameworks, but let us learn to find our own voice in the crowd. Let us learn to take the stage with our own act, and learn the relevant technique to improve it. But let us not be told our act can only work this way, and that only this way is correct. We can learn, we can change and we can improve, we need only the will and the effort to attempt, and with a little luck we may succeed.
N.B. On a personal note, I probably went well over the 15 minutes today!
Lexicon word of the day: Obfuscate.