Monday, February 17, 2014

The Goal of Writing

(Or, if I was going to write the whole thing out, "My Personal Lifelong Philosophy of What a Writer is Supposed to Do." I should not be in charge of making titles for things if there's a character limit (Not that there is on Blogger. Not that I know of.

When I was very young (ergo the "lifelong"), I concluded that the job of a writer was to observe the world and accurately communicate what they saw and experienced to their readers. Since I was big into writing fiction from an early age, this meant trying to thoroughly visualize the stories in my head and then attempting to depict them accurately to my (mostly hypothetical) readers. I also felt a near semi-moral obligation to go out and have new experiences so that I could write about them accurately (Still do. Nothing like an horizon-broadening experience to get your synapses to fire in new and interesting ways, and to generate connections you wouldn't have thought of previously). It comes back to this: the reader should see what you see, feel what you feel, understand what you're thinking.

This was and is the Holy Grail of writing for me.

I've come to understand that perfect communication is probably impossible. The mere fact that I grew up in a heavily religious environment, know how to milk a goat, and poked sticks into hot lava means that I am a different person than someone who perhaps has gone to public school, got an English degree, and talks to their mother once a week on the most cordial terms. The mere fact that another person has had a different point of observation in this world means that they won't see the same things I see when we look at the same things.

(Hell, I've known people who grew up heavily religious, know how to milk goats, and poked sticks into lava with me, and they're different from me. Details, schmetails).

Writer approximately equals observer + transcriber. Something like a video camera. The observer part of the equation is a unique lens into how said observer views the world. In the case of writing, this lens is going to affect how you transcribe your observations, and your readers have their own lenses when they observe what you write. I used to think the point of writing was to attempt to clarify what you were seeing through your lens as clearly as possible, to cancel out the imperfections that might be magnified in a reader's lens to the point where they distorted the image you were trying to communicate (If the reader doesn't understand what you're trying to say, you did it wrong). Deliberately not attempting to maximize the clarity was the purview of people who wrote annoyingly obtuse poetry and (boring, dry, pen-in-eye worthy) stories for English literature books.

(I also used to think poetry had to rhyme and have some sort of beat to it. I've become more...flexible and lazy in my old age.)

So, Writing. A writer observes a world (maybe even this one), or stories, or a raw naked universe full of random inspirations, and then makes other people see it. And care about it. Writing transcribes what is essentially a mental state and memories to letters on a printed page. Which is rather amazing, when you think about it. It's what allows us to see worlds beyond this; live lives that we wouldn't have thought of otherwise; marvel in the vastness of nature, humanity, and even past the realm of existence as we know it.

And if my readers can see what I see, and feel what I feel, and understand the story I'm trying to tell - or even if you care, for however short an amount of time - then I've done what I am supposed to do.