- by Michael DiMatteo
What is the essence of good writing? There isn’t one “essence” as good writing is simply, well, good writing. The author is able to pull you in to anything he or she is crafting, and the story or setting or subject is made compelling by said author to the point that the pages turn themselves and there’s nothing you can do about it. That is the essence of good writing. However….
As I peruse the social media pages of budding authors, wander the forests of Facebook, or peer through the lens of Instagram, I’m struck by a few things that are causing me to think writing—true writing—is dying a slow, painful, almost imperceptible death.
I see more and more people asking for permission to write on certain topics, topics that one would deem today to be triggering, a term I’ve come to loathe. Have we become so sensitive that we now need a warning of some sort before sensitive ears or eyes see something they may not like or might find offensive? The very idea of asking for permission to write anything is, to my mind, against everything our society stands for. So what if someone is offended, put off, or is bothered by your chosen topic. That’s their problem, and their burden to overcome, not the writer’s.
Case in point—on one writer’s group on Facebook, a person began their question to the group thus: “I’m sorry if this is triggering for some of you but my question is about my story which involves a cop. Is it hard to sell a story with a heroic cop?”
That alone isn’t the icing on the cake, but the responses were. One said, “Trying to find a hero among state issued killers is a tough sell…” Another said, “It’s harder to make believable now than 37 years ago” I still can’t figure out the 37 years ago thought.
The question alone bears examining. Why is someone is asking a question about selling a book involving any topic? I get it, if you’re writing for profit, as we all try to, but…write your book. If it doesn’t sell, so what? For some reason, that book was pushing to come out of your head and needed to be birthed, so write it and let the chips fall where they may.
I can’t imagine Voltaire, the great French writer, playwright, and social observer dithering over whether or not to write the Philosophical Dictionary or Candide. Did Erasmus ask around if he should write The Praise of Folly, a rather controversial yet humorous story poking fun at the Catholic Church in the 16th century?
I wonder, did Thomas Paine ask for permission as he penned his masterpiece Common Sense which actually advocated for revolution? Luther—well—he wrote critical works on the Popes that almost guaranteed his death, yet he not only survived but thrived in an age where papal criticism was truly a death sentence. I’d say Luther triggered a number of people, and we know he did—but pressed on despite said triggering.
Laura Cereta, the great 15th century feminist writer wrote and wrote and wrote, all the while being vilified for doing so as it was not a woman’s place during that historical period. Dante Alighieri penned the scathing The Divine Comedy, skewering with extreme prejudice his political enemies and causing a rather significant uproar during his lifetime. I’m sure triggering anyone was the last thing he was concerned with.
So, too, one must one take into account historical context. Without getting to philosophical here, dangers in previous centuries meant danger to life and limb, not cancelling. Those men and women were not deterred in their quest to write, so why are we in our time?
The very notion that some are actually parsing their words, thoughts, ideas, and notions of what is right and wrong in the world of literature is not only troubling, but disturbing. It would seem that we’ve reached the point where sensitivity by others is dictating to the rest what subjects are taboo and what are not. Those who’ve decided to act as judge, jury, and executioner in the world of literature if said writing does not satisfy their insecurities and insensitivities do worse…they silence…the death knell of any writer.
Furthermore, writers are becoming less bold, less willing to challenge those restrictions for fear of being removed from the libraries of thought; their words relegated to the cobwebbed basements of the unread, banished for all time because they refused to acquiesce to the over-sensitive voices who tremble at the very mention of just about anything.
It would seem we’ve reached the point of know return…and many willingly embrace it, intentionally silencing their own voices that otherwise would announce their presence with grand gestures and loud huzzahs, laying their stories out for all to see no matter their acceptance or rejection.
What have we become, this once open stage for the creative? What are we becoming and where are we going? To silence anyone is not to deny free speech, but rather to deny one’s ability to listen—to anything—the first step toward self-imposed totalitarianism. It is a slow creep, almost imperceptible in its movements, but moving just the same. It will be the death of true writing—just as cancer spreads silently throughout one’s body until too late.
So, write, write, and write again. Continue to write whatever it is that pleases you. It may sell, it may not and in the end, who cares? As so many have said more than once, it is the process of writing wherein the joy lies, not in the publication. Immanuel Kant, in his most famous essay What is Enlightenment? said it best: Sapere Aude—Dare to Know. The way to know? Write.
Joan Didion famously said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” What better motivation than those words?
The only way to know is to flesh it out…to write…and let the critics and now, the oversensitive, be damned.