Years ago, when I went to the Kris and Dean Oregon Coast Professional Writers’ workshop, I found myself listening to the things they were saying on HOW to write, and finally asked Kris, “But what about why you write? How do I work on that?”
I got back a puzzled look (as I should) and the words that we were each supposed to find WHY we wrote. Or words to that effect.
Which was right and just, since while most of us have no clue why we write, we know we can’t stop. If we want to make up a pretty story about why we write, GOOD. No one can stop us.
In my case I write because otherwise people object to my kidnapping total strangers to tell them stories.
But is every story alike? Do I write to tell people a certain set of facts? What meaning do I find in my work.
Well… No, every story is not alike. Very early on I identified certain stories which I called “heart’s blood.” More on that later.
Do I write to tell people a certain set of facts? Not noticeably. There are two short stories I planned to write, to get a point of view across. The first, the point of view was supposed to be that there is no such thing as perfect diplomacy. Sometimes even with the best translations and intentions, diplomatic efforts will only precipitate war. It never got written. Yes, the story made sense, and had a point, but I had no impetus to write it.
The second story was about how boomers were using social blue models to loot the younger generations, and what this would cause, in terms of upheaval and backlash. Never wrote it. True, but way too depressing.
So, no. I write stories that form complete in my mind, and which do, sometimes, include elements of political or cultural things I believe. I write things that fascinate me and interest me.
They might have my beliefs in them. But they aren’t started or written to preach.
But if not to promulgate my views, what are stories for?
Well, “heart’s blood” stories come alive. There are real people with real things at stake and a real struggle to make things come out right. I CARE for the characters and the situation. I want it to come out right. I’m riveted.
Which is why heart’s blood stories usually capture others too.
I mean, what kind of art is it if when you look at it you need to have it explained to you how it’s good because it supports the right principles? Oh, wait, modern art. Never mind.
Art: real art throughout the centuries can speak across the centuries, regardless of how much society has changed and how much the principles believed in have changed. We’re not any longer the solid Catholic society in which Leonardo DaVinci worked, but the Virgin of the Rocks still speaks to us and hits us in the emotions.
Shakespeare’s wording has aged, and sure we know some of it was Tudor propaganda, but the stories still live and the characters are true.
But what about promulgating the just and right ideas? What is art if it doesn’t speak truth to power?
Art is art. Whether it serves propaganda purposes or not, art remains art. Whether it opposes or endorses the “power” in society doesn’t matter. Richard III was an hatchet job. It’s also, undeniably art.
Do not let yourself be gulled into writing this or that because “this must be said” or that “Is speaking truth to power.” Sure, if those are your reasons to write, that’s fine, but ultimately? It can mask what you’re doing so you produce very bad art. I.e. if you’re concentrating on preaching the “right” (or left) “truths” you’re not concentrating on making the world and the characters live in their own right and be true art. Sure. Some people can do it. But you’re making it exponentially harder.
Write heart’s blood. Write what makes your heart sing. If people tell you that it’s wrong, and that you should write truth to power, or power to truth, or whatever they tell you you should do, ignore them.
True art, or as close as you can get to it, is eternal. Ignore ephemeral concerns. Go and write. That is the meaning and the whole of the meaning. Go and write stories that live. Nothing else matters.