What Is Writing, Really?

I belong to a couple writer groups. I like these people, I really do. They get into spirited debates about—mostly, from what I witness, anyway—the mechanics of writing. And that’s okay.  It is. I hardly ever see any real discussion on the heart of writing, its soul. This I find curious. Perhaps it’s because the soul of writing doesn’t need any discussion. What can be said about it?

That a piece of writing needs some?

That it doesn’t?

What is “soul,” anywho?

Do you even believe in a “soul”?

It is good and productive to discuss all-things writing, while part of a writers’ group of any kind, but I (personally) find such arguments mental masturbation (not that there’s anything wrong with masturbation…). I just find it not all that useful to the actual effort of writing—and maybe that’s to my detriment. I’m more of a metaphysical, organic fiction writer. I’ve heard from the published and unpublished, agents and publishers. All manner of well-meaning and wonderful people on the topic, but I truly do not think it matters, the mechanics of writing, that is. I’ve said it before…poor shit gets published just like good shit. There’s no accounting for taste.

Now, I intend absolutely no disservice to those reading either of the above, those agenting it, and those publishing it. I truly feel that whatever the book, it gets picked up little because of the mechanics involved (from my rather disadvantaged purchase, perhaps)…but because someone feels they can make money off it. That for one reason or the other (see previous statement) it got their attention.

Do you have to hook someone in the first page—the first word?

Only if s/he reading it believes this to be the case.

Does POV matter?

See above.

And sure the argument can be well made that only WELL-ESTABLISHED authors can “get away” with breaking rules.

For every argument exists an exception.

And when those such as ourselves become so focused on the very mechanics of writing we cannot always see the forest for the trees. In our minds, of course you have to have a well-written story…a well-conceived plot… action/something interesting on each and every page. Less adverbs, more nouns, less tell, more show—good Lord, pick yer poison! Rules-rules-rules!

Readers don’t care. I’ve asked them. Those that aren’t writers, nor have any inclinations toward writing. They tell me they just want a good story. Something that interests them. “A good book.”

I’m a writer—I actually make my living at it (currently I’m a tech writer, and yes, I DO outline lots in that world; see “organic writer,” above…)—and have been a reader since not long after sperm-and-egg, so I think I have a pretty good idea, you know, what’s “good” (see “no accounting for taste,” above), right? A couple years ago I read a bestselling book in which the writing not only sucked, but did so out loud. To me. So, I asked someone else what they thought of the book.

“It was great!”

Best thing they’d read in a long time.

There you go.

So, really, what is writing about?

Mechanics? Attention spans? Money? Whether or not something is, uh, “well written”? Some weird-assed Zen thing?

For every answer I can provide, someone out there will take exception with me, if for no other reason than they can…or want to prove me wrong…and have some vat-o-stats to slosh all over me like so much boiling oil. To each of them I can only say: Yeah…maybe.

 Sure, get involved in the discussions, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them, a good didactic encounter never hurt anybody, but in the end, find out—inside you, inside your soul—why you’re doing what you’re doing. Make that your reason for writing. Don’t make it about having to do your efforts one way or the other to sell or grab the shortened attentions span of some agent/editor/reader. Do it for presenting the best damned story possible, to being true to the story (some say it’s all about characters, but characters are part of a story). Many don’t believe this, but I truly believe that if writers honestly open themselves up and allow themselves to be overcome with the soul of a story…the story itself will present the writer with the best method of expression.

Organically.

Write because you must.

Do the very best you absolutely can. Learn what you need to learn, then get on with the business of writing (here I mean actual writing, not the “business suit” end of things). I truly believe that after a while you’ve learned all there is about the mechanics of writing…that you then have to develop an ability so frigging powerful, so evocative, so gripping and whatever else it needs to be to be true to the story that readers cannot help but read your story, like rubbernecking roadkill and accidents.

If you are easily deterred by any other argument, it’s simply not your bag. No biggee. Doesn’t have to be. Don’t take it so hard. Find whatever else it is you’re supposed to be good at.

I was once asked (and I paraphrase) why I kept “at it,” with going to years of conferences and such when I wasn’t published (a matter of opinion, since I am self-PUBLISHED [and, BTW, did you read this week’s, August 23, Publishers Weekly “The New PW Select,” by George W. Slowik, Jr., about self-pub’d books? It’s on page 4. I applaud you, sir! That’s what writing is about!]). To me (and I could be off-base) the question implied why am I still doing this after eons of “nothing t’show fer it.”

So why do I continue doing it?

<Shrugging shoulders>

Because I have to.

Now, admittedly, lately, things have gotten crazy, and I haven’t been doing much of “it,” even outright questioning my continued ability to do so, because of the “weird Zen of it all” (and not in a good way), but the intent is still there. I’m thinking I’m simply way too stressed out to concentrate on those efforts right now, and actually don’t have much time to devote to it, given my day job is occupying the areas of space-time I devote to my fiction efforts…or there’s some gnarly metaphysical struggle going on inside me. Maybe the later is spawning the former. Yeah, this I believe, cause I’m paranormally metaphysical that way.

But I keep picking at things, if only for a half hour.

So, what is writing?

It is sitting down and pounding away at letters.

It is creation.

It is being true to the story.

It is heart and soul.

It is…whatever the writer wants it to be.

If you wanna follow rules—go ahead.

Write first person POV? Feel free.

Capture someone’s attention on page uno—by all frigging means, capture away!

But remember this: even the most poorly written works can be bestsellers. There’s no accounting for taste.

Write with soul. With heart. With all that you have and are. Believe in yourself—and your story.

That’s writing.

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About fpdorchak

Paranormal fiction author.
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4 Responses to What Is Writing, Really?

  1. Karen Lin says:

    Both craft and the heart/voice of the writing are important. Here, I’ll let others say it better:

    Craft:
    “Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.” – Lin Yutang

    Heart:
    “When a thought takes one’s breath away, a grammar lesson seems an impertinence.” – Thomas W. Higginson

  2. Karen Lin says:

    Another reason we write when it seems we should give up. The writing itself is cathartic and cheaper than a psychiatrist and drugs – unless they are generic. Karen Lin

  3. fpdorchak says:

    Thanks for stopping by (again!), Karen. Good point, your last comment! :-]

    This should probably be its own separate post, but I remember reading some work by another who had THE MOST BEAUTIFULLY CRAFTED WORDS AND SENTENCES I’d EVER read (even to this day I still think about the feeling I got from reading those words). And I do mean this. The words..the sentences…were absolutely BEAUTIFUL. Stunning. Mesmerizing. Grammar—perfect. I loved it…but the story went nowhere. In the end, the writing did nothing for me.

    Me.

    Is that wrong? Is that not writing?

    I lay thinking in bed this morning: to those who demand to be wowed on the first page of a PERFECT ms…what if there was a person who was on their deathbed and had just barely gotten their ms out…and their typewriter (yes, TYPEWRITER) or PC had issues with the letter “e.” Their work was soul wrenching and emotional and one-of-a-kind? Would they pass on it because there was no letter “e” throughout th ntir r am of pap r?
    What if there was THE MOST PORLY GRAMMERTICALY WRITEN ms ever to pass across a desk…but the story itself was powerful. Would an agent pass on it?

    We all seem (and hey, I have my good and bad days, too…) to become so much more opinionated these days…don’t know if it’s because of the Internet, wars, increased population (I’ve noticed the more tighly packed humans get, the less friendly they are), or global warming, but I really wish we’d lose some of our indignance and self-righteousness we bring upon ourselves and be more open minded. Project a more genuine interest and concern (and heck, LOVE) into the world, than abject boredom, malaise, and submitted perfection (BTW, I’m not aiming all this at you, Cicily [hope I spelled your name correctly], I’m generalizing across 90% of the agents and editors I’ve met over the years who project as they do into the world, like so much “disaffect youth” or make life more difficult by projecting an air of “don’t even THINK about bothering me”; you’ve made your point quite clear about the caring type of person you are, and I greatly appreciated that…it’s good for all of us to see that “other side” of the desk now and then). We’re all humans, trying to do the best we can while we exist—we should be better treated as such (and it goes BOTH ways, writers). But in the exact same breath, perhaps all those other mss that have been passed over were passed over FOR A REASON. They had no soul, and even less grammatical purity. I believe that all those people who are saying “grab me at Word One” are saying it because there IS so much slush out there. I get that. I also get that craft can be important…but I still feel that SOUL and HEART are the more important qualities of writing. Because even in the most poorly DELIVERED ms, I’d be more interested in the heart and soul of the writing, and find the “other shortcomings” endearing and very much a PART OF the story itself. But, hey, that’s my little old opinion on my little old post.

    I don’t mean to stomp or lessen any other person’s opinion on the matter (and if anyone took it as such, my apologies), but was just giving my opinion as a counter to what I was seeing, since I found some “spare time” to do so. I just see so much talk about craft and mechanics and not enough about the more intangible aspects of writing. Perhaps that’s because people can discuss the tangible in more concrete, black-and-white terms than the intangible. That that’s one thing people can have an active part (read: “CONTROL”) in an otherwise considered “out-of-control” industry…and actually try to get better at. I get that, too.

    I just wish we’d all play nicer and not be so dang adversarial.

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