I feel that, after last Friday, it would be prudent to take a step back from our discussion. Let me reiterate a few things, and hopefully expand upon them. After that, I will continue the discussion.
Seven days ago a man walked into a preschool in Connecticut and murdered 26 people – Twenty were children. A debate sparked less than 24 hours later over the measures that would be needed to safeguard against such a horrific event from being repeated. As with most political debates, the discussion was almost instantly deadlocked as both sides dug in and flung prepackaged soundbites at each other.
It is from this perspective that I would like us to reconsider our writing. As I’ve said before, we are teachers, and we teach what we believe to others. Isn’t that also what the politicians are trying to do? They are use words to craft sentences. Those sentences are meant to convince and persuade (yes I know some enjoy just listening to their own voice, but lets just assume that they are serving some good). How are we any different from them?
In writing we have two choices. Either we can write much as they speak -endless facts and illustrations to prove our points through logic and reasoning – or we can attempt to convince through an alternative means: community. The second of these two options is the more effective, because we are communal people. Think about it: are you more likely to agree with someone you like, or don’t like? Does something sound more reasonable when it is coming from someone you love, or someone you have contempt for?
The reason why we must write from ourselves. We must expose our being because that is where our truth is rooted, and that is also where our persuasiveness is rooted. We cannot to change someone’s mind without first entering into community with them. As writers, that community is formed through the written bridge that we create when we expose ourselves on the pages of our story. Anything less than yourself on that page, and the bridge is not formed, and your ability to persuade is crippled.
A friend of mine (and fellow blogger) recently raised a question about this point. The question – as best as I can synthesize it – goes something like this. When we open ourselves up (like I am suggesting), then we open up that history (which is often painful) to the coloring of both our bias and the bias of others. Should we then expose ourselves with that understanding? Yes, and that is precisely the point.
The bridge between you and the reader can only be formed when the reader can see you. When they see you, they do fill your story and thoughts with their own, and the community is created. That community leads to the exchanging of ideas. It also allows you to examine yourself. Will that always be as honest and objective as you might hope? No, but then it never is. The fact still remains that your greatest tool for self reflection and persuasion rest inside of communing with others through literature. The trick is to remain honest.
But our honesty has an antagonist: Fear. We are afraid of opening ourselves up to others, and we are afraid of opening ourselves to ourselves (as odd as that might seem). This restricts our voice, exposes us to the use of cliches, and weakens our lesson. We must fight against the antagonist, but first we must also learn about him. That is our purpose for today: to study our enemy, to understand why we are afraid, and what spawns from fear.
In every story, the second step for the protagonist is always to discover the opposite force; the antagonist. He or she (the protagonist) had an idea, and set out to fulfill that idea, but now they finds themselves blocked by a force traveling in the exact opposite direction. Like the protagonists of countless other stories, we had an idea, had set out on a task, and have discovered our enemy. Now we must learn about the antagonist in order to better fight him.
Fear often is born from experience, in the same way that our lesson and understanding of truth are born from experience. The reason we experience fear in the first place is because the lesson and pain are often combined. We want to avoid pain, so we attempt to avoid it. So then there are two possible directions we can travel down to arrive at the same antagonist. Either we are afraid because we have either never opened up before in our lives, or else we have, and the repercussions were extraordinarily painful.
Perhaps we haven’t been hurt yet. Our pen is resting just a fraction of an inch above the paper, ready to reveal who we really are and what we will stand for. However, we then catch sight of the splattered remains of someone else – someone who opened up – who was wrecked by the cruelty that can manifest in any human. We worry that will be us next, and fear sets in to stifle us. We hide, creating a mask by copying the works of others who “succeeded.” Over time, the mask becomes permanent, and who we were dies altogether.
Or perhaps it is real pain that we are suffering from. We have been wronged, the pain is raw and jagged, like a cruel wound against our inner person. We feel the emotions, but rather than release them onto paper we hide. We believe that we should look a certain way. Fear interferes with our honesty, and our need to release the emotions and thoughts. So we internalize, and dump the pain deeper into our conscious. This is as ineffective as sweeping a mount of dirt under the rug. The pain will not magically vanish once it is hidden, but rather it will fester.
These two hinderances are rooted in the fear of inadequacy. We do not feel sufficient so we choose to hide, bury, avoid. This is extremely hurtful to us, as we shut ourselves down in both instances, and create a grinding frustration at our unworthiness and substandard person. This internalizing will only compound the pain and frustration until we cannot hold on for another second. We then erupt, harming relationships and birthing bitterness.
This fear also produces guilt. We buy into the statement that our story isn’t important, or good enough, and begin to craft something else. This facade is cheep, and flimsy. The facade is also a lie, and produces greater dishonesty (to try and patch up the facade) and guilt about our dishonesty. As I said before, the truth is always more powerful than fiction. Eventually, the facade will either break down, or it will become true. As humans, we are in a perpetual state of change. Like it or not, the masks we wear can become our true face.
Both of these byproducts of fear are toxic, and will run rampant in our lives if we allow them to. We cannot do that. We must struggle against fear. We must address what is wrong in our own life, and what isn’t pretty. There is a great need for us to be honest with others and ourselves about who we are. Again, bitterness and guilt are toxic, and the first step to unmaking them is by exposing them to the light. Again, our story is both the lesson, and the mirror. We are both teaching others through our pain, and exposing ourselves for who we really are.
Finally, this fear and its byproducts drive towards reclusion. I do not mean the reclusion of an introvert (yay us), but of someone who literally has separated themselves from everyone. Writing might seem like a single person activity, but it isn’t. When you write, you are writing always to someone else, as well as yourself. You cannot hope to write well while being alone. Fear, bitterness, and guilt much all be exposed if you are to write well.
This is a massive task, to write that is. Do you realize it yet? More than simple grammar, spelling, and sentence structure; more than story lines, character development, and theme production; writing is a war. You struggle continuously against the temptation to cut corners, to avoid seeing yourself or even challenging yourself. You are at war, and fear – your great enemy – would love nothing more than to keep you from exposing the truth, ethical, and moral goodness that is found in broken clay jars. You must fight it. You must have courage.
I once was talking with a friend of mine about the recent exposure of the fan-fiction genre. As we discussed the pros and cons of the genre, I couldn’t help shake the sensation that the genre as a whole was something of a copout from the writer. I didn’t then (nor do I now) dispute the idea that good writers can create well written pieces through fan-fiction, but I did feel at the time that the writer was missing something when they chose to write from someone else’s world.
I feel like I can articulate this problem more effectively now. When writing fan-fiction, you are taking what has already been given to you – the characters, the story – and placing your own story idea into it. However, every element of your world, every element of any story – it is all a mirror and a lesson. When we take someone else’s mirror, and jigsaw our own into it, we distort both the original, and our own, and create a message that is confusing to others, while never giving us a clearer understanding of who we really are.
When you write, I would like for you to consider this: every idea, every detail, every action is there on purpose. Not for mere authenticity, or because the genre requires it, but because it is the simultaneous mirror and lesson. This is difficult. The Antagonist stands to fight you every step of the way. You will need to be courageous to step out against fear.