Thursday, September 26

The Importance of Writing: To Write or Not to Write

Were it not for writing, you would not be reading this article at the moment in time which you have chosen to read it. The earliest writings of man date back a mere few thousand years ago. For example, the Epic of Gilgamesh, parts of which are based in history though much is mythological, is one of the earliest known works of literature. Writing is useful in many respects. This includes the preservation of historical events and of fictional accounts that have continually captivated the imagination of the human mind, the furtherance of science and its different fields, the development of philosophy and religious ideas, among other things. To illustrate this, the articles, “On The Pleasure Of Taking Up One’s Pen” by Hilaire Belloc, “The Writing Life” by Stephen King, “Souls on Ice” by Mark Doty, “Anonymous, Evasive Prose to Writing With Passion” by Scott Russell Sanders, and “The Pleasure of Writing” by A.A. Milne are used support the notion that writing is important for the conveyance of knowledge and ideas, as well as for the preservation of our history.

According to Belloc, “No man can create anything.” An example of what is meant by this is as follows: a man sits down to write about a land inhabited by mystical creatures and governed by gods. While the publication itself may have arisen within the man’s creative processes, the man has nevertheless employed ideas that were already in existence: some kind of mythical land, inhabited by mystical creatures, and ruled by gods. It ought to be noted that the concept of gods (or a God) is not a new concept, and is therefore not a true creation of the man. Although he may have created a new god-figure, the concept is nonetheless used and not original. Therefore, “it must be admitted that there is no such thing as a man’s ‘creating’” (Belloc). At the same time, when we write, writing does not come without a small price. Belloc argued that “you know that when you have done, something will be added to the world, and little destroyed,” simply meaning that whatever medium you are reading this essay on was formed using physical materials. For example, if a writer used a pen and paper to author a large volume, he or she would not simply be using their knowledge and perhaps other sources, but would also be using the led in the pencil, and would be using quite a bit of paper, which is essentially the consumption of materials. Yet given the usage of the transference of ideas between people, as well as the preservation of our history, it is well worth the cost, though it must be admitted that there are many things in print which ought not to be in print.

However, as put by Sanders, “Any time I opened my mouth to speak, I might be held accountable for what I said.” Whatever one writes and is available for public viewing, is prone to be judged, and therefore the author can be held accountable for what he or she has put into writing. In a society based on information, be it in economics, politics, religion, or whatever aspect of society or individual life it may be, information is a necessary thing. Even our DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), which contains our set of genetic instructions used in our functioning and development, contains information. According to Sean McDowell, educator and popular speaker, "The DNA in one cell in the human body holds the equivalent of roughly 8000 books of information. A typical human body has about 100 trillion cells,” demonstrating that even in our genetic makeup, information is important. While this is a bit of a digression, it is necessary to establish that information is necessary in many regards.

Milne believes that writing can be a “real pleasure.” Indeed, some people, such as poets, write simply for the enjoyment, or for the pleasure. One may write a play out of enjoyment, or perhaps a fictional story, such as an action or adventure novel. While it is true that there are those who write simply to receive revenue to pay the bills and purchase the groceries, it is also true that there are writers who write simply for the pleasure. Sometimes, Milne writes, “I sit at my desk and wonder if there is any possible subject in the whole world upon which I can possibly find anything to say.” At times writing is merely a form of self-expression, and not intended to argue a point, or provide information, but is simply writing with the purpose of the pleasure of the author. “When poets and idiots talk of the pleasure of writing, they mean the pleasure of giving a piece of their minds to the public,” whereas Milne believes that the “pleasure of the artist in seeing beautifully shaped ‘k’s’ and sinuous ‘s’s’ grow beneath his steel” is a reason to enjoy writing.

Also, in like manner, Belloc noted that “Among the sadder and smaller pleasures of this world I count this pleasure: the pleasure of taking up one’s pen.” But what of the means by which the concepts and ideas flow freely from the mind to the paper? By what inspiration do writers write? We are not speaking of the physical material itself, of pens and pencils and other utensils, but of inspiration. King, who is perhaps best known for his numerous works of horror, many of which have been adapted into film and television, stated that “There’s a mystery about creative writing, but it’s a boring mystery unless you’re interested in this one small animal, sometimes quite vicious, that makes its home in the bushes.” King calls this creature his “muse,” which comes from the Greek word musa, meaning song. His muse, he argues, is his inspiration. “There is indeed a half-wild beast that lives in the thickets of each writer’s imagination. It gorges on a half-cooked stew of suppositions, superstitions and half-finished stories” (King).

Inspiration comes in a variety of ways. Some writers find inspiration in their spouses, if they have a spouse, while others find inspiration in nature, or in their faith, political beliefs, or other personal view of things. For example, a Christian may write about the Psalms or Proverbs, understanding that “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body” (Ecclesiastes 12:11). A Buddhist, then, may write about such things are nirvana, enlightenment, etc. The Buddhist may write something along the lines of, “picture a goose inside of a glass bottle. Now find a way to take the goose out of the bottle without harming the goose or breaking the bottle.” One could ponder ways for many an hour, until finally he or she gave up and asked for the solution, to which the author would reply, “since the goose inside the bottle are merely words in a sentence, all you must do is say, ‘the goose is out of the bottle,’ and he would be free.” Inspiration can arise from several different factors. King believes that it comes from the “semi-domestication f one’s muse.”

Certainly, inspiration can come from anything, in some form. Doty, a poet, conveyed that at a store in Massachusetts, he was “struck by the elegance of the mackerel in the fresh-fish display. They were rowed and stacked, brilliant against the white of the crushed ice; I loved how black and glistening the bands of dark scales were, and the prismed sheen of the patches between, and their shining flat eyes.” Doty goes on to describe how “A poem is always made of experience,” and in this manner, determines throughout the remainder of his essay what he will say in a poem about these fish. The mackerels were his inspiration for the poem he proceeded to write. “There were false starts, wrong turnings that I wound up throwing out when they didn’t seem to lead anywhere. I can’t remember now, because the poem has worked the charm of its craft on my memory; it convinces me that it is an artifact of a process of inquiry” (Doty). After much deliberation, Doty finished his poem, which he titled “A Display of Mackerel.”

Each author has different reasons to write, different inspirations, and different eras. Belloc was writing in 1908, Milne in 1920, Sanders and Doty in 1997, and King in 2006. Each writer also makes mention of historical people, events, or things. Sander alludes to the Civil War and “Sherman’s bloody march,” as well as writers such as Mark Twain. Belloc mentions Charlemagne, whose throne was made of pure gold in the “Song of Roland.” He says that the throne “was borne into Spain across the cold and awful passes of the Pyrenees by no less than a hundred and twenty mules, and all the Western world adored it.” Milne references William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in which he says that “One cannot write ‘Scene I. An Open Place. Thunder and Lightning. Enter Three Witches’… in the spur of the moment.” Doty makes a passing reference to AIDS, which is an epidemic still currently at large, and King alludes to Joseph Keller’s novel Cath-22 and its follow-up, Something Happened. The authors each use allusions, yet in each case, certain history is also being preserved. In many works of antiquity, brief references are made to certain historical events, people, or locations, and entire histories are based on these brief references.

One example of this is Julius Caesar’s “crossing the Rubicon,” the start of Caesar’s civil war (49 BC), in which Roman generals were supposed to disband their armies before crossing the Rubicon, and by not disbanding, Caesar was declaring war. Suetonius, a Roman historian, wrote his historical account of Caesar crossing the Rubicon at least 110 years after the event, in approximately 121 AD, and is considered to be generally reliable. There are two ancient sources which mention this event, one of which is quoting the other. Another example involves Hannibal’s invasion of Rome. Hannibal crossed the Alps in 218 BC to attack Rome. Polybius (200-118 BC), a Greek historian, chronicled this invasion, as did Livy (59 BC-17 AD), a Roman historian. These two examples demonstrate that even one or two references, be it long or brief, have shaped how we view history. Without these historical documents, we would not have preserved some of our history. It is also known that when the Library of Alexandria burned, some of our history was lost.

There are different reasons for a writer to write. Some write for pleasure, some write for income, some write to contend about something, others write to philosophize, while yet some write in the field of science, among other related things. Those who write as a source of income, however, face difficulties writing due to time constraints. Writer’s block, as define by King, is “a stretch of months when [your inspiration] doesn't come at all.” This is not necessarily a major issue for the person writing for simple pleasure with no strings attached, but for the writer who has a deadline by which he or she must finish the work, writer’s block can becoming a stumbling block. Sometimes, those who have a short time to write cannot fully express themselves in the way they wish, as they may be rushing a piece to finish it by a fixed date. The same is true of film, as is the case of the first Star Wars film. George Lucas had a vision for the film which could not be fully realized until he was given more time to work on it.

Without writing, we would live in a very different world. Writing is useful for the preservation of our history, from which we can not only learn about our past, but also learn from past mistakes, and attempt to not repeat these mistakes. It is also useful to convey ideas, philosophies, poetry, thoughts, and concepts to others. Without writing, we would not have Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey, or the works of Plato, which include the Socratic Dialogues. We would also not have Shakespeare’s many plays, the books contained within the Bible, the writings of men such as C.S. Lewis and works of fiction such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. While oral tradition also allows for the passing on of ideas, concepts and history, written record is more useful in that it can be copied, shared, examined, reviewed, and in most cases can be kept relatively unchanged whereas oral traditions tend to change now and then. Each writer has a specific purpose behind their work, and behind each writer is a history, a culture, a background. Writing makes up much of our society, and without writing, life could be a lot more problematic.

No comments:

Post a Comment