ABC’s of Writing (for Beginners): Y for You

Posted by on Oct 10, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

10447512_10152182776737883_7963626041346234253_nThe trouble with “Y” when discussing the literary arts is that it doesn’t have an obvious correlation to any particular element of writing. “A” can be for active voice, while “E” might suggest environment, and “S” is almost certainly for setting. But what does “Y” have to do with writing?

The first answer I came up with was the easy way out: just make it “Y?” with a question mark. Like, why write? Why bother? It wasn’t a bad solution. “Y?” not only asks a broad, subjective question, but it looks hip by social media standards, and isn’t that all that anybody cares about these days?

There are, however, two problems with this idea. The first is that the question is a little too broad. Why do we write? I couldn’t answer that question in a thousand pages, let alone within the confines of a blog post. The second, even more debilitating problem with “Y?” as a topic is that, hip as it make look to social media addicts and brand culture in the digital age, I think it looks stupid. And that counts for more than you’d think.

If that sounds a little self-centered, then I’m on the right track. Writing is self-centered, or at least, it ought to be to a reasonable extent. Writers, and especially new writers, are often tempted to write what people want them to write—to write what will sell. Now if the end game is just to be published, then by all means, write what will sell. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about writing as something you feel compelled to do not for others, but for you.

See what I did there? You. That’s what today’s letter is all about. You write because you have a story to tell that no one else can. You write because something inside of you won’t rest until you’ve released it to the world, regardless whether or not the world wants to hear it. Writing, arrogant as it may sound, is about You.

Many writers are at least latently aware of this when they first start writing, but once you put your writing out to the world, even by simply telling someone what your story or poem or memoir is about, the sense of self—the sense of You—can become overshadowed by the feedback you receive. “Your story was so good, I couldn’t stop reading, but I wish that they’d caught the killer at the end.” You, as a writer, likely had a very good reason for not catching the killer at the end. “That’s not the point of the story,” you think, but you can’t get the feedback out of your head. Then someone else comes along with similar comments, and the insecurities get worse. “Maybe I should change it if that’s what people want,” you might think, and most of the time, you’d be wrong.

This is especially true in writing workshops. Yes, I’m going there. Workshops are where it gets most tricky, because now you’re with your fellow writers—you should take some of their feedback to heart. But you also have to know whether or not their feedback is in-line with the story you’re telling, or if they are simply reworking your story from their own angle. This is perhaps the most challenging place to remember You. American education (and probably many others) teach us how to quantify, how to achieve the “right” answer, so when you go into a workshop, you may be inclined to do what the instructor says or what a more seasoned student says—you may be inclined to come up with the “right” answer. But writing is not quantitative. It is art, and art is, by nature, primarily subjective. An artist creates art with one thing in mind, and an audience receives art oftentimes with a completely different interpretation. That’s the point of it: to meet people where they’re at, to speak to them in a way that means something to them, even if it isn’t exactly what it meant to you.

I still struggle with this balance. I submit a rough draft to a mentor or friend for a read- through, and they come back with more comments than I’m prepared to handle. I want to justify myself. I want to reject their ideas and explain why I’m right. But none of that is necessary. Yes, I need to take some feedback, but it’s not up to the commenters to only provide feedback that is relevant to the way I see my story, nor is it their responsibility to know the story I’m writing; they can only be expected to respond to the art with which they’ve been presented in the best way they know how. That will never end. When your book is finished and published, there will be people who criticize it, don’t like it, whatever. That’s a reality of being an artist, and you have to push that aside. No, it is the author’s responsibility to know his or her story, and it is the author’s responsibility to tell it the way he or she intended. Feedback is good, necessary even, but it should not cripple you or dictate what story you should tell.

I said earlier that I can’t answer the question, “Why write?” I lied. I can. You write for you. Any other answer is incomplete.

Joshua Wise holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Fairfield University and is currently the Editor In Chief of Mason’s Road: A Literary & Arts Journal. He has previously written for The Curator, Patrol Magazine, Baeble Music, Quilter’s Home, and GenerationQ. He lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife, and is currently writing his first novel. ABC’s of Writing

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