Saturday, March 19, 2011

Writing for Reason - To thine own self be true

This above all: To thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!

(Polonius – Hamlet Act I, scene 3)

I recently had the privilege of attending a writing workshop with Tim Cahill and Molly Sides in hopes of gaining some inspiration and improvement of my writing skills. It was one of the best investments I’ve made because some of my most difficult moments in writing occur when I haven’t a clue about the subject I’m writing about. That’s the time you’ll find me surfing the web for more information or hanging out in the library hoping to educate myself on the subject, at least well enough to be able to spew out something that sounds partially intelligent. Mr. Cahill had a solution for my dilemma that seemed so basic and simple that I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t thought of it myself – write about what you know and make it mean something to you.

Suddenly I began to notice that many of the greatest writers to date have done just that. Even many of my beloved Stephen King’s most successful works come from a Maine setting and are narrated through the eyes of a man who was usually a father and a husband. Hemmingway was said to have written in bibliographical fashion, utilizing personal experiences as a home base for his tales. Rudyard Kipling did the very same thing and spared no feelings in his reasoning.

In Kipling’s speech Literature, he subtly takes on some of the criticisms given his work. Surprisingly, he encourages and even expects this should all come with the job of writing as a profession, but reminds his audience that in this adventure – he is still just a man prone to the same mistakes in reason as a bad lawyer, surgeon or cook. The magic, he professes, comes from the words and the ability of the reader to have an open mind willing to accept them. An idea such as this puts the responsibility for the success of a story on both the reader and the writer as should be the case in any relationship endeavor.

Words have no value if they fall on deaf ears. No matter how eloquently they are written or spoken they will always fail at their task if one refuses to indulge in the opinions of others around them. Kipling was astute enough to wisely suggest this to the audience in his lecture. Most definitely it is the right of every individual to formulate and carry around their own set of opinions and beliefs that they acquire from their journey in life, but narrow-mindedness quickly kills any further potential of growth within the individual every time. The solution to this disease is basic – just listen. There are no rules stipulating that you must accept what the author is telling you if you hear or read them. The true joy of life comes when we are able to connect as humans capable of graciously accepting these gifts of communication, even if we don’t fancy the colors they come in. The rapture occurs when we make that mental connection with another that inspires us for a lifetime. Kipling was able to accomplish this goal in his relationship with Sir Henry Rider Haggard and it’s inherently apparent to anyone who reads their work.

Kipling and Haggard shared a commonality in not only opinions, but in a passionate love affair with words. Both understood that words possess the power of change if written in a way that seduces the reader and leaves his soul hungry for more. Kipling managed to utilize “on the line thinking” when writing about England’s grip on third world countries in his adventures, leaving audiences wondering where his loyalties fell. By indulging in neutral statements, Kipling was able to minimally draw attention to matters at hand without severely infecting the opinions of others – a gigantic first step in disarming ignorance.

Haggard was ever the more mindful of this communication tool that he viewed as a potential weapon. In his work About Fiction, he cautions the audience that his profession provides one with the ability to influence a young generation with ideas that can stay with them through the “days of their lives”, even without their prior consent or knowledge. It is therefore Haggard’s suggestion that an author’s work – whether good or bad, contain an idea of morality. When comparing the lifestyles and literature of his time to modern work, you must concur that his idea holds considerable merit.

The attraction to the work of these great authors stems from their ability to utilize what they know to entertain and inspire an audience. Each is able to consummate words and escapades in a way that ignites empathy and open-mindedness while providing mental food for thought to the reader. My objective is accomplishing this task through determination, effort and growth. I realize this ability comes from within, but it doesn’t hurt to have great role models guiding the way.

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