Tuesday, March 13, 2012
The Witch's Brew- Writers and Politics, Part One of Four
It's hard to write good fiction.
Very few of us write great fiction.
Fewer still write great fiction capable of truly transforming reader's hearts and minds. We're afraid to try, and, really, we don't think we're up to the noble task. So mostly we join writer's groups, live in fear of critiques and workshop, workshop, workshop.
Instead of exploring the world around us, dissecting it and imagining how to put it together again in a better way, we network with other writers, agents, editors and publishers.
We measure our success or lack thereof in number of positive Tweets, number of likes and/or comments on our Facebook page, or number of blog visitors measured by the great Bean Counter of the Internet- Google Analytics.
The thrill and exaltation of writing our first novel fades when no one much pays attention. It turns to mortified rejection when it's first rejected by an agent. By the sixth or seventh rejection, our writing life may be measured in terms of how many milligrams of Valium the doctor prescribes or how many glasses of wine we imbibe on any given day.
In between this Dark Night of the Soul and our first real success, many writers develop the Lemming Syndrome. If there's an emotional cliff anywhere within miles of where they live, they feel compelled to do the Zombie Walk to it and jump off, making sure their reputations crash to the bottom with them.
The Lemming Syndrome occurs mostly when we know that we want to write, but realize we really aren't good enough yet to write something of lasting value. That's when we commit the terrible sin of trying to teach others to write.
When as writers we have done this to the point that we realize we are as welcome in writing circles as relatives who belch fire, we panic and commit the most heinous of writing sins: we begin to blather away in public about politics. We have drunk from the Witches' Brew. We post political materials on Facebook. We are enraged by the "Opposition Party." We make fun of their candidates, deride them as "small-minded" or "dangerous" or "out of touch." We scream slogans we'd be ashamed to hear other primates promoting. We Twitter like there's no tomorrow. Each election is the most "...important of our lifetime." We not only agree, we shout it from the rooftops. It's safer than taking a risk with our writing.
We do this because we're too lazy to write novels that will change the hearts of minds of others. We're afraid. It takes too much work. It's risky. We are not, after all, Dostoevsky, Victor Hugo, Harriet Beecher Stowe or John Steinbeck. What if nobody likes our serious writing? What if it's politically unpopular? Better stick with genre.
The same writers who are proud to the point of stridency about hyperactive addiction to discussing endlessly the political evils of our world, do very little in the way of creating powerful fiction. Talk is cheap. The cost of great fiction is your heart, your soul and your mind. You must invest everything into it.
"The Grapes of Wrath" took a toll on Steinbeck.
Are you wasting your time writing ubiquitous fiction? Is it because you no longer believe in the power of fiction to change hearts and minds? Or is it just your own fiction you doubt? Leave the socially powerful writing to the very talented few, you say. Leave the heavy lifting to the strong writers.
Someday, you say, you will write a "social novel." One that will change the world. Or maybe just not embarrass you.
But it has to be later, you say. It's 2012 and we have to discuss politics and talk and talk and talk.
Why not write?
What will that change? you ask.
If you aim low, you can never fall too far.
And you've forgotten why you write. That's what happens when you drink the witch's brew. You quit believing in yourself and the muscular power of the written word.
There's an antidote.