East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Writing is good for the soul – so what?


rubbishYesterday my friend Lucy did a post about the quality of genre fiction1 and the horrid effect that in our country the sudden invasion of rank amateurs is doing to the field.
There’s an awful lot of third grade rubbish being self-published, basically written by adolescents of all ages, people that are lacking in terms of writing skills and of genre culture. The sort of people that start working on their fantasy trilogy because they saw Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies and nothing else.

Clearly, there is a Darwinian selection at work, and rubbish will not survive, but right now it is cluttering the (virtual) shelves. A few benighted readers are actually liking this sort of stuff, but basically anyone deserves what they decide to read2.

Now, one of the things my friend Lucy was told was, writing is good for one’s soul.

Which is certainly true, but also, it is basically meaningless.

Now, let’s get this straight – any kind of work, as long as it is done with care, attention and concentration, has a positive effect on our mind.
It does not make any difference if we are preparing a dinner, repairing a bicycle or writing a short story.
If we are in the zone, as sportsmen say, if we are focused, working at the best of our skills, taking care in what we are doing, then we will feel the benefit.51monvGqUmL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_
Isn’t that just great?

I could reference you to two dozens of learned books on the subject, but here and now I’ll just point those of you that are philosophically inclined to John Daido Loori‘s The Zen of Creativity, and those more technically inclined to Matthew B. Crawford‘s Shop Class as Soulcraft. Both are great books, check them out.

So, yes, writing is good for the soul.
But frankly I do not give a damn about the author’s soul when I am reading a book – I care about the story, the characters, I appreciate a solid level of writing skill and I cherish originality.
51PlFrZwmxL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The exact proportions of these ingredients may vary – say, I can appreciate an utterly unoriginal story if it’s written marvelously, if the characters and the dialogue just sweep me away – but for certain the author’s well being as they finished their story is not part of my enjoyment of the book.
This is pretty cynical, I can see, but it is the truth.
Did anybody at the end of a book say, ever, shees, this was utter garbage, but I guess the author really felt good after finishing it, so it’s ok!
Of course not!
And therefore, anyone justifying their own poor writing with the it’s good for my soul argument are, basically, barking up the wrong tree.
We do not care about the author’s soul – or lack thereof.

You may have noticed that I mentioned doing any kind of work is good for the soul, as long as we do it at our best.
A lot of the rank amateurs currently churning out poorly written, badly plotted, unoriginal clones of Young Adult bestsellers or ultra-derivative Paranormal Romances, or offensive sword & sorcery littered with “busty” queens and “well endowed” amazons simply do not take writing for a work.
Work implies skill, study, dedication, and care for the customer, for the receiving end of our activity – the person that will eat our dinner, the cyclist that will ride the bike we are repairing, the reader of our story…
Work is not done in a vacuum – not even if you are an astronaut in outer space.
Those that write for the good of their own soul often do not care for their readers – if my story’s poorly written, they can just stop reading, a guy said to my friend Lucy.
Thanks a lot, pal!
It does not work like that – writing without care for the reader is not what being a writer is about.
It’s ok for diaries, but not for fiction, or non fiction.
Also, doing work – any kind of work – means possessing a basic set of skills, plus the ability of gauging the quality of the work we are doing.
If we are writing and do not know – nor care – about the quality of what we are doing…
Why do it? Because it’s good for our soul?

Writing because it’s a great way for doing some soul-searching, writing because it makes us feel better… yeah, why not.
But if that’s what we are doing, maybe inflicting our texts on the unwitting public is not what we should do.
After all, they do not sell tickets for psychological counseling sessions, do they?

  1. it’s in Italian, and you’ll need the help of Google Translate or Bing to read it, but it’s worth the effort 
  2. arguably, in our country, ignorant readers can become a problem, but that’s a completely different can of worms, of course 

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

7 thoughts on “Writing is good for the soul – so what?

  1. Reblogged this on Hopes and Dreams: My Writing and My Sons and commented:
    Yes. Yes. And again, yes!


  2. Ye-es… you get heaps of those at writing workshops. You point out good writing practices and principles, you talk of discipline, rigour, hard work – and they retort (often rather testily) that this is not how they “feel” it. They do it for themselves, because writing is good for their soul… And then approach you in the corridor asking about traditional and self-publishing… And no amount of explanation can make them see the difference between private soul-searching and professionally written, publishable fiction.

    In other times, when they sent around the content of their souls haphazardly poured on A4 paper and got no response, they could play the misunderstood genius, victim to the soulles, market-minded publishers. Nowadays… Well, nowadays they don’t even have to bump into that particular wall. They self-publish and call themselves writers, and live very happy.

    And don’t I sound tetchy about it! 😀


  3. First of all, I want to underline that this comment will present some mistakes – it’s the first time I comment on a weblog in English – so please, be sympathetic if you can.

    I have the impression that saying “the sort of people that start working on their fantasy trilogy because they saw Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies and nothing else.” could sounds a bit haughty. Everyone has its starting point (the Hobbit trilogy, the Evil Dead, the Odyssey), and in my opinion everyone should have the right to write something, being stimulated by this starting point – or by several refined influences as well. Genre fiction has known success also because writers refused by traditional literary circles became appreciated and popular. This sentence gives me the impression that the author could prefer a sort of preselection for the authors involved in genre fiction. But in this way, genre fiction coul slowly transform itself in another of those closed literary circles. Did I have the wrong impression? Did I misinterpret your way of thinking?


    • My point is, you cannot write in the genre without a basic functional knowledge of the genre itself – let us say there are a dozen titles (books, mind you, not movies) that are required reading, if nothing else, to avoid endlessly re-inventing the wheel, within any genre.
      Because if all starting writers do imitate some model, then the variety and quality of the models is extremely important. It is not a matter of pre-selection (by whom? where?) but simply of knowing what one is trying to write or, even better, of where one stands in the field they are trying to explore with their writing.


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