Glawe: If you must write, write well


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Frustration, stress and writer’s block.

Michael Glawe.Com

As an infant of an idea, this column was conceived as a lengthy diatribe against the poor state of writing now inundating online publication. To be honest, I am not a perfect writer — though I wake up everyday revolting against the possibility that I will never be good enough — and who am I to critique a brother or sister of my profession?

I suppose my real intention, the final destiny of this piece, is not to cement myself among the higher echelons of the writing profession, or even to assume the pulpit pounder of my inherent elitism, but to prevent the complete obliteration of good writing.

Everywhere I look, I see the constituents of my generation, so named the “millennials,” publishing at a rapid patter their sob love stories, endless lists dictating identities and advising lifestyles, and the raunchy escapades of someone I don’t care about. Authorship is evolving into an ultimately meaningless organ fueled, in turn, by poor readership. Sell what sells, I suppose.

How prophetic E.B. White was when he reflected upon the new breed of writers, “The volume of writing is enormous, these days, and much of it has a sort of windiness about it, almost as though the author were in a state of euphoria. ‘Spontaneous me,’ sang Whitman, and, in his innocence, let loose the hordes of uninspired scribblers who would one day confuse spontaneity with genius.”

This is not, however, an all-effecting condition. At the fringes, there exist skilled and inventive millennial writers who have established their own style in their own voice. Surely there is a space for them in the heart of literature. Just as well, it is frivolous to bemoan the drastic change in writing styles — that seems entirely inevitable.

But the advent of personal computers and the Internet has brought forth monsters: blogs for the unpalatable — and sometimes unreadable—, flimsy arguments propped by unreliable evidence and, of course, the violent crusaders commenting on each and every publication.

That isn’t to say we are completely crooked. Saliently, in the spirit of free speech, I welcome the exchange of ideas, as any inheritor of the Enlightenment would. Those principles include crookedness and oddity.

Ironically, though, I despise those who write carelessly and blandly because you might as well not write at all. As writers, thinkers and readers we must ask ourselves, “What is interesting? What deserves to be discussed?” Rebecca West, assuming her role as a literary critic, once said in a puncturing essay on harsh criticism, “If we can offer the mind of the world nothing else we can offer it our silence.”

Good writing is not merely an embellishment, but the essence of the idea conveyed to the reader. Frivolous writing handicaps the readers and decreases their propensity to read seriously. It is probably necessary, then, to criticize bad reading as well. If we readers demand that our scribblers dumb down their work, we put ourselves in grave disposition. Our minds accustomed to the easy and unchallenging piffle, we gradually perpetuate the business of writing, rather than the art of writing.

A marriage has commenced between bad writing and bad reading, and one wonders who plays off of who. As readers, we should demand more from our writers. As writers, we can expect a higher standard of writing both for our peers and ourselves. Millennial writing certainly shouldn’t be rendered hostage to literary elitism, but it can hold itself to a certain excellence.

There are difficulties, impasses and obstacles to climbing the mountain of writing. To ignore the obvious challenge of differentiation is to miss the purpose of climbing in the first place. As writers — no, wait, as artists — the climb can be everlasting.

Throughout our writing career, we silently and desperately tear at the umbilical cord connecting us to Shakespeare or Cervantes or Melville. By reconciling with our forebears, perhaps we may endure the struggle. But that doesn’t mean we have to abandon the beautiful writing of old for the sake of uniqueness, or for the sake of the business model, or worst of all, expedience.