Consumed

Aspiring writer? I have my suspicions, especially when those words come from an adult.

Enough. Writing is the most difficult work I know.

Ben Jonson: “For a man to write well, there are required three necessaries: to read the best authors, observe the best speakers, and much exercise of his own style.”

Rilke, easily quoted, but the question must be honestly, ruthlessly assessed: “There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all—ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write?”

I know, along with Flannery O’Connor, “that few people who are supposedly interested in writing are interested in writing well. They are interested in publishing something, and if possible in making a ‘killing.’ They are interested in being a writer, not in writing.”

Whitman, also easily quoted: “To have great poets, there must be great audiences, too.” But I question how seriously he’s taken.

Tess Gallagher: “When you start reading in a certain way, that’s already the beginning of your writing. You’re learning what you admire and you’re learning to love other writers. The love of other writers is an important first step. To be a voracious, loving reader.”

We aren’t suffering a shortage of writers—but a dearth of expert readers. Aspire to be stellar in your reading, unmatched in your discretion. Everyone’s a writer, only when the writing’s left behind.

*               *               *

There’s easy money to be made, playing it safe, writing for personal gain, conducting feel-good workshops, hosting family-friendly readings. This, from Peter Watson’s The Age of Atheists, which clearly extends to the arts and higher education:

“One well-publicized finding is that although the developed Western nations have become better off in a financial and material sense, they are not any happier than they were decades ago. In fact, in The Age of Absurdity: Why Modern Life Makes It Hard to Be Happy (2010), Michael Foley argues that modern life has made things worse, ‘deepening our cravings and at the same time heightening our delusions of importance as individuals. Not only are we rabid in our unsustainable demands for gourmet living, eternal youth, fame and a hundred varieties of sex, we have been encouraged—by a post-1970s ‘rights’ culture that has created a zero-tolerance sensitivity to any perceived inequality, slight or grievance—into believing that to want something is to deserve it.’ Moreover, ‘the things we have are devalued by the things we want next’—another consequence of capitalism.”

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