Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Beginning Writer's Life: Carping Diem

 As in other creative endeavors, there are stages in the writer's recognition that maturity exists, is a worthy goal to pursue, followed immediately upon such recognition to the striving to achieve it, the arrival at the early plateau, and the subsequent exercises of discipline to keep it limber and functional. 

In similar fashion, there are stages of writerly development where the major activity is complaining.  Complaint in a writer is often a cover-up or defense, waged against the fear that other writers are progressing at a faster level, finding voices, "seeing" or understanding the dimensions in orbit about a moral or ethical situation.

Complaining writers often are drawn to one another, whence they bond in fear and recrimination rather than striving to discover steps to bring them closer to their craft.  You can close your eyes and imagine the sounds of them carping, whinging, taking offense, chanting the mantra "Carping diem."

The writer's obligation is to disturb rather than to complain.  Even when a writer's complaints are grounded in validity, they sound too much like a screed, too little like a story; their concepts are still rooted in self-advertising rather than self examination, in expressions of superiority rather than empathy.

A certain maturity is assumed when the writer recognizes the need for the antagonist to be as dimensional as the protagonist, perhaps a tad smarter than the protagonist, possibly even a bit heavier with empathy.  The protagonist must describe an arc of plausible-yet-effective change, all this in the process of devising a strategy and attitude that is of higher quality than the strategy and attitude of the antagonist.  It is fitting for the antagonist to be better looking, smarter, more disciplined in the practice of his or her talent; this gives the protagonist a worthwhile opponent, one over whom a victory is an accomplishment, not a mere dramatic convention.  In real life, it is good to succeed for the sake of participation; in drama, it is good to succeed as a winner in the cosmic poker game of story.  At least in our mythos, taking part is more important than the laurel of victory or the sting of defeat; in the mythos of the Bhagavad-Gita, Arjuna learns that participation is everything. "To the work you are entitled," Krishna tells him, "but not the fruits thereon."  How many of us work, in particular for the mere sake of doing the thing?  How many of us work for the recognition?

How many of us work for the sake of complaint?

A writer with a complaint is a traveler who has picked up the wrong novel at the airport.  A mature writer's duty is to disturb readers.  Of course the goal takes with it the sense of entertaining the  reader while providing the disturbance.

How can I ever hope to do that?  the beginning writer, the cranky writer, asks.  Find a way, comes the answer.  They didn't tell me I had to do that when I began, the cranky writer complains.  You weren't ready to hear it, the veteran says, you were too busy complaining.

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