Friday, September 23, 2011

Why I Write

"Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival." — C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

            As I work through my first big writing project, the question of why I'm writing comes to mind. It's one of those big questions that people tend to ask. It fits with the "Why am I here?" and "What's the purpose of life?" genre. As such, there's many weighty answers to be had. Some people write in order to prove that they existed. After they've died, their writing lives on, a permanent record that they affected the world in some small way. Others write in order to display some theme that has taken hold of their lives. Be it the viciousness of poverty or the wickedness of Latin verbs, these people write so their opinions can be taken on by others. And there are many other reasons for writing.

            For me, writing is an extension of my being. It should be; that's another integral part of being a writer. But I love telling stories. Having people settle around and raptly listen to a tale gives me an immense amount of joy. The story could be frivolous or incredibly poignant, but the act of telling is vital. Storytelling throws me back thousands of years. I become a Homer to the Greeks, offering my tale for their consumption and enjoyment. Together, both storyteller and listener become enthralled in the interaction, and both are (hopefully) bettered by the experience.

            Writing is simply another extension of this storytelling.  I hope my written accounts give people some measure of joy as the story spools out before them. Yet, I don't write to be frivolous. Much of my material deals with important themes, like the personal side of war and the interplay between violence and the pursuit of the Good; telling these themes is important to me too.

            Writing for me is like the quote above. Like friendship, writing is not necessary for survival. It doesn't produce food or provide self-defense against an attacker. Instead, it's one of those things which makes life enjoyable, which adds value to surviving.

            This is why I write. Why do you?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Write What You Know?

            I've always been told to write what I know. Teachers, friends, books have always said "What topic have you studied? That should be what your writing focuses on."

            Not to break with tradition, but I disagree. Completely.

            Writing what you know is an acceptable formula for textbooks and nonfiction; in those areas, it is essential to know the material down to the minute detail. Otherwise, the entire work loses credibility. In fiction, however, this is simply not the case. To limit one's writing to what they know eliminates countless plotlines and innumerable stories.

            Personally, I know very little about being a mother. I'm a male; I also have no children. Yet, "Dulce et Decorum" is one of my favorite pieces I've ever written. In it, a mother loses her only son to the horrors of the Wars against Napoleon.

            J. A. Konrath, one of the most successful indie writers out there, broke into traditional publishing with his Jack Daniels books. The protagonist in that series is a female detective. Konrath is a male and has never worked in law enforcement. How then has Konrath sold thousands of copies of his books? He doesn't really know much about being a woman and a detective...Or does he?

            Rather than writing what we know, fiction demands something different, something better:

            Write from your Passion.

            In my case, I feel passionately about the personal loss in war. A mother's grief is far more important to me than the faceless statistics of a battle won or lost. Seeing how conflict wrecks the lives of a single family far outweighs cries for a national struggle through bloodshed. In brief, I write to display that passion to others. So, my writing has often focused on warfare in different ages and the human suffering behind those numbers. I won't speak to Konrath's passions, but he has written extensively on his blog about passion for storylines. To mince his words, if a writer doesn't feel passionate about their plot, there's not a jot of a chance that a reader will.

            When I write, I don't necessary know what it's like to be a mother, or a grieving lover; I have never lost someone to war. Rather, I write with passion for a subject and do research to supplement what I don't know. Writer's who start with what they know can produce facts and details quickly and efficiently. But writers who write from their passions produce stories that audience will want to enjoy; if the reader can sense the emotion and life breathed into the piece, they are more likely to connect with the work.

            Write from what moves you; the knowledge can follow.