Friday, March 8, 2013

To the insecure writer

Do you ever feel like your contribution to the world isn't all that great or worth the time? Do you have a complex over having an Arts degree over a Science degree? I've found that there's a fair few writers in this position and being one who was capable of going in either direction (and still follows both fields avidly) I'm to be counted amongst the insecure. There's several reasons for having such feelings but I've come to see these feelings as good ones to have.
Feelings of insecurity tend to lead people down two paths. One is denial and a taking up of arms to prove such insecurities wrong. The other is to give up and do something else more satisfying. To be absolutely blatant, this is a good way to cull the fanatics from the mildly interested, which in turn raises the level of skill and knowledge amongst those writers who remain. Or the madness, never forget the madness...
But this all just means that there's still a pool of writers feeling insecure and battling away to prove themselves and their works worthwhile. As our value is often seen as our career or the products of our labours by those who aren't familiar with us individually we are inevitably judged as ones who pull words out of a hat and live in an imaginary world for most of our lives.

Well, the degree to which we do just that depends on what we write. But even when someone is writing pure fantasy there is a need for research, an understanding of standard story structures and the art of story telling as well as a deep understanding of the human mind. You simply can't write an appealing piece on any subject whatsoever, you have to know what appeals and why and tailor your piece of work to fit that appeal. Then comes marketing and the intense squabble to make your name, or should I put it more plainly as to be heard at all. By this point the effort put in for a piece of writing makes you wonder if there's  any equivalent value in your writing at all. Or is it all a waste of your time and everyone else's?
The sad truth is that sometimes it is all a waste. For any writing badly targeted, not well constructed or of lesser appeal than its competitors it all turns out to be a complete waste of time. But, hopefully, if enough skill and effort has been applied to the writing as is applied to being heard (I absolutely hate it when writers are heard and published for trash, by the way, as this truly wastes people's time and destroys the credibility of the writing profession) there is hope for satisfaction and a feeling of justification.
Still, do these fleeting emotions mean your work is worth it and isn't just a waste of your life? Again, it depends on what you've written whether you come up with an answer of "yes, it was worth it" or "no, it was a total waste". The reason for this is usually how we view the genres as a culture of readers or scholars. Non-fiction tends to justify itself better, especially when the work isn't on being afraid of being abducted by aliens. Works on history, politics, science and language tend to take the fore when it comes to easily justifiable. We can see their value isn't just in the current climate as happens to be the case for many economics books that focus on banking and house buying. Even then, economics is more justifiable than many non-fiction books, including true crime which is frequently seen as either born of morbid curiosity or exploitation, and most fiction.

Of fiction, literature, and especially the classics, are seen as works of greater value. They're seen as ones that hold the best insights into human nature and the world/universe. In some cases this preconception we have is absolutely correct but in others we are sorely misguided. Any old fiction and literature that hasn't stood the test of time does not have more or better insights into humanity and the universe than any genre fiction.
Once you leave the classics behind you're left with a wide range of fiction works that fall within several genres, each of which holds more or less value according to just how much the author put in. You might think science fiction is innately more valuable than fantasy as at least science fiction draws on facts but you'd be forgetting that the human propensity to imagine up gods and monsters is as factual and revealing in itself as any technology utilised in science fiction. Sometimes more so, especially when you consider time travel through worm holes.
So, if you are writing works that seem to be of lesser value just because society tells you so, you should probably take a little heart and hope in the fact that we're all just plain wrong about genre judgements. Time is the ultimate judge and even it is often biased by politics, preconceptions, social norms and expectations etc.
How can you tell, then, whether any of your work is valuable and worth your time at all? Well, do you feel like you're mind is rotting away and you're bored to the point of drooling into your pillow? If so, your time is likely wasted as there's probably more exciting and engaging things for you to do. If, on the other hand, you're so gripped by writing that you always want to improve and struggle through the toughest of times then you're probably in the right field. There's also this to take heart in: there is an innate value in writing to all human beings. While every other species on this planet couldn't give a toss, except for a few apes who've had the chance to learn a few words and seem engaged by the process, humans thrive on the written and spoken word, especially when the words form stories that let the mind imagine, understand, reach new heights of knowledge and cope with the stresses of life.

Just think, you may write that one piece that changes someone's mind, makes then have a happy day when they started out miserable, resonates in the mind of another enough to be passed on or remembered for the rest of their life. There's also the honour of having the work read and reread over and over by any single person throughout their lives or you could be the one that creates a book that helps light up the imaginations of generations of children.
Never forget either, that every field of study communicates through writing so what you're doing is working within the most important and prevalent field there is. Without it our collective knowledge and wisdom would slowly erode into hearsay.

PS: Never forget that you can't write without following other fields to get information to write on. It is all interconnected. If you find another field more appealing try nosing over using your writing and a course. Leaping fields doesn't mean leaving one thing behind. It just means collecting more skills to use.

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