Why are we creating and/or reading articles about the art, science and craft of writing? After all, very few ‘general’ readers are interested in the subject. We’re basically preaching to the choir when we write at MGC and/or similar blogs. It’s a bunch of actual and wannabe authors talking to – and at, and sometimes past – each other. Why? What’s the point?
I’m very serious about that question. In recent months, as I’ve been unable to do much fiction writing due to the pain and other difficulties caused by kidney stones, I’ve tried reading other ‘writing blogs’. They’re doing the same thing we are here, and often appear to have the same limitations on their perspective and points of view. It’s as if the authors can get lost in the narrowness of their perspective, seeing the whole world through the lens of creative writing. Doesn’t this ignore a great deal of reality that simply isn’t visible through that lens? Isn’t it like being addicted to alcohol, or drugs, or sex, or whatever – nothing else in one’s life can be seen except through the ‘lens’ of one’s addiction?
Dave Freer has rendered us a service with two recent articles on MGC about providing for oneself and one’s family. I don’t think he could possibly get locked into an internal monologue about writing when he’s thirty feet underwater, wrestling with a lobster or disputing its ownership with a moray eel! There’s not much fictional or fantastic about that situation – it’s intensely practical and ‘in-the-moment’. I somehow doubt that Dave’s thoughts were anywhere near the latest activities of his protagonist! If they had been, they might have proved to be such a distraction that he wouldn’t have made it back to the surface again. Reality demands all of his attention at moments like that.
I’ve thought about the same thing while trying to get back into writing the latest volume in the Maxwell Saga, which I hope to publish in February, God willing.
As you know, the Maxwell series is military science fiction. I’ve ‘been there and done that’ when it comes to military service. I know whereof I speak . . . and that’s a danger as well as a blessing. I can become so wrapped up in the way I know it should be that I forget I have a limited perspective. For others, serving in different countries and different armed services and different branches or specializations of those armed services, their experience of military life and combat might have been very different to mine. However, their emotional reaction to combat and blood and death was and is probably pretty similar – it’s been that way since time immemorial, after all. Something like five millennia ago, as Otzi died I’m sure he felt the same fear and pain as any other victim of combat, and I’m sure those who killed him felt the same emotions as any other victor. Those factors weren’t dependent on literacy, or education, or anything except the heat of the moment and the scent of blood in their nostrils and the lived reality of triumph or defeat. Yet, most of those who write about that event today can’t even begin to identify with those things, because their experience of life is so vastly different from Otzi’s. They’re scientists, academics . . . not primitives. There’s an intellectual and conceptual disconnect between those world views that’s almost impossible to bridge.
How do we overcome that disconnect in our writing? How can we authentically, meaningfully write about things – emotions, reactions, events – that we’ve never personally experienced in any way, shape or form? That’s been the dilemma for writers ever since the first work of fiction. I suggest that a certain amount of experience of life is essential if one’s to write about it authentically; and I further suggest that if that experience is lacking, one’s writing will also be lacking.
Let me use Shakespeare as a classic example. I’m convinced he must have experienced military service in some form, and probably combat as well. Read his scenes set in military camps, his accounts of soldiers’ thoughts and conversations before battle. They could be translated into modern English and put in the mouths and minds of modern troops with no trouble at all. The fit is almost perfect. I don’t think someone ignorant of military reality could have written them. Want another example? How about a nurse writing about what goes on in the emergency room? I don’t think anyone who’s experienced only the sterile, by-the-book, aseptic wards of a hospital could understand the hurly-burly emotional roller-coaster of dealing with that environment. I submit that it takes experience to understand it, and it takes real ability to communicate that experience rather than simply describe so intense a reality.
I know this question has been pondered many times, but I think it’s worth revisiting it in order to reorient ourselves towards reality, to drag ourselves (kicking and screaming, if necessary) out of our cocoons. Is such a broader perspective on life, on reality, really necessary in order to write about it convincingly? Or is it a luxury that most writers can’t afford? Can they ‘make do’ without it?