Yesterday 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.
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.
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?