Today at Rave Reviews Book Club we’re having a recruitment drive, which is something we do most days on social media, but make a special effort on our blogs once a month. We have themes to use if we want and today’s prompt is – My Responsibility as a Writer. Life’s pretty hectic this week for me, so I didn’t have much time to write something until today, but the theme intrigued me and got me thinking about why and how I write and if, in fact, I felt I had any responsibilities at all as a writer.
My initial inclination was to say something about this in terms of belonging to RRBC and in the sense of community that we have there. The level of support we offer to each other and the friendships that are forged with people all over the world that we’ll never meet, except in cyberspace. That’s a great reason to join RRBC today, but in the end, for me anyway, the act of writing itself is an intensely personal thing and not something that is a group effort as it were, at least not for indie author/publishers like most of us at RRBC are. Which took me back to why I’m a writer and why people write books in the first place.
So, for me the theme needed a big question mark after it. Here’s what I’ve come up with as the answer…
I’m coming at this topic rhetorically, because there’s a lot of people with a lot to say on the subject today. When anyone makes a decision to write something for public consumption there are myriad reasons why they’re sitting with a blank surface and their stylus of choice in front of them. Thus it has ever been, whether the words are written in stone, wood, animal skin, paper or pixels whizzing across cyberspace. For most, I doubt that ‘responsibility’ is at the top of the conscious list, unless they are embarking on some scientific, political or moral crusade that will find resonance in the lot of humankind. However, if we take less weighty literary endeavours into account, then duties or obligations probably do not make it into the top ten.
The field of fiction is the arena that comes to mind most readily when people think about what a writer ‘does’. When asked to name a famous writer, evocative names like Will Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie, Arthur Miller and Stephen King reverberate down the centuries and more recent corridors of fame. Did/do they think it was their ‘responsibility’ to put pen to paper and expect people to listen to, or read their words – or even pay for the privilege of doing so? Shakespeare and Dickens certainly did, because writing was how they earned their living and, having found that they had a flair for telling a good marketable yarn, knew that they could support their families with that talent. The thought that their work would live on long past their own earthly presence ended, probably didn’t come into the equation too much, so long as people were interested enough in seeing and reading their words.
Then there’s the non-fiction side of the coin. This is more associated with learning and education and so, if asked to name any books that ‘changed the world’, most people would struggle to come up with Philosophiæ Naturalis and Principia Mathematica, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, Das Kapital, Kritik der politischen Ökonomie or Rights of Man: yet will have little problem in naming the intellects responsible for those seminal works – respectively Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx and Thomas Paine. The original question as posed then starts to gather momentum, because the work of these men was produced with the purest of underlying motivations. To share information and ideas with the rest of the world, not for fame and fortune for themselves, and more than a crust on the table for their nearest and dearest (well, maybe that as well, but that was not the most important outcome in going to print).
Arguably. any person with a message to relay, or a tale to tell, who sets out to let the world know of their story, or their truth, is acting on an impetus to spread information or wisdom of some kind. Even if the work is entirely fictional. Think of it historically, as far back as you can go. Even before there were books, scrolls or tablets. Still we had tellers of tales to give us stories about people who had lived bravely, or stupidly, or served others in some respect. Of hunters and earth-mother goddesses, kings and warriors, holy men or clever criminals. Even less dramatic lives and experiences can be used to tell a tale, or impart learning. Farmers or cooks, school children and teachers, carpenters or fishermen. Especially fishers of men – the Bible is still a bestseller, and yet that started out in oral traditions and laboriously recorded histories and stories by a long line of scribes, over nearly three thousand years.
Legends and histories go back much further than that of course. The oldest piece of structured literature that was written down, is the poem of the Epic of Gilgamesh which dates back over four thousand years. We now know from antiquated remnants, that the writing of language (as opposed to numbers, which is far older) started in around 3200 BCE, with cuneiform in Mesopotamia. The pictograms of Egypt also date from around that time, but cuneiform, being abstracted, holds more water as a systemic method of recording language, and so being used to record names and events as well as business transactions more speedily, using styli on clay tablets. The recording of cautionary or apocryphal tales, spun out to young and old, around campfires and hearths over the millennia, were the next leap in the trade of scribing. This was a skilled and rarefied craft for many thousands of years, into more recent historical times, when movable type was invented in China just over a thousand years ago, and rebooted in Germany in 1450 CE.
Fast forward to today, and we now have a surfeit of ways to communicate our stories, ideas and information to a global audience. Yet still people want to learn all there is to know about the world and hear about people in other places, from other times, or even from places and times that never were. but are spun from our dreams, imagination and fears.
So what are a writer’s responsibilities? I can only tell you mine.
- to tell the story the best way I can
- to get my facts right
- not to ‘dumb down’ for my readers
- to make the story relevant for everyone
- to go deep and to do justice to the tale and the characters, whether the story is happy or horrific
- to keep things balanced and in perspective – of the period, morally or politically
- not to shy away from hard lessons and painful recounting
- to understand the experience and the emotions
- to be passionate and love my words
- to be human and humane
Writing is about communicating, whether you’re dealing in fiction or not. You write for yourself, as well as for others. The best writing is founded in truth and felt deeply. That is the first thing you must understand if you want to be a good writer.
Here’s the link again if you’d like to learn more about why RRBC is such a great community for both writers and readers and why you should join us! 😀