So Who Cares?
It's a bit of a surprise to me that my little
essay writing hobby is still rolling along steadily. I described
earlier how it got started, with a small request from a weekly
newspaper, but when I look back at the pile of pieces I've produced
over the past nine months since I really 'got serious' about this ...
more than 70 essays and one 'book'; I find it hard to believe that I
really wrote all those. (I certainly haven't generally felt that I've
been getting much accomplished recently, but evidence to the contrary
is there in front of me - not only these essays, but a new woodblock
print every month, the quarterly newsletters, the monthly print
letters, and then of course, all the housework, cleaning, shopping
and cooking, etc. What could I do if I really felt energetic?!
The other evening I spent a nostalgic couple of
hours reading through some of the older pieces (can one actually be
'nostalgic' about something from only nine months ago?), and was
struck by a couple of things. The first was how much they need
editing; how clumsy many of the sentences are, and how poor I am at
expressing ideas clearly. I had thought they were so well done ...
But I have a good excuse - I am a beginner at this. Hopefully, if I
keep it up, and try and be fairly self-critical, they will gradually
The second thing I noticed, was that the shorter
pieces were the 'better' pieces. I think this comes from the fact
that anybody can put an idea down on paper, but developing it
properly is far more difficult. (It is also probably due to the ideas
being so 'simple' in the first place. They don't really need much
more than one page to be expressed.) But even though I now read those
pieces with a critical eye, that does not detract from my pleasure at
having created them. Beginner I may be, but that means that the only
way to go ... is upwards!
Although it is relatively easy to see defects in
work produced some time ago, it is much more difficult to
self-criticize new work. So in the interest of improving my writing
skills, I have recently passed some of these pieces out to friends
and acquaintances for their comments. Generally though, this has not
resulted in much really productive criticism coming back to me.
Friends are friends, and thus are not particularly willing to risk
endangering a friendship with any 'hard-edged' comments. Their
'criticism' is thus almost universally positive ... nice for the ego,
but doing nothing for the skills ...
It was interesting for me therefore one day
recently, to get a chance to watch someone read a short piece of mine
printed in a weekly newspaper. This person was only the most casual
of acquaintances, and felt absolutely no obligation to praise the
work, or indeed comment on it at all. And somewhat to my surprise,
that's exactly what happened. I saw him read through the piece
quietly, and when he got to the bottom of the page, he folded up the
paper ... and tossed it aside. No comment. He then started talking
about something completely different. Now, although I hadn't expected
him to start raving about what he had read, I had expected something
- some kind of reaction to the ideas expressed. But no, it had
obviously struck no chord at all. It was completely of no
I sat back quietly, and didn't press the matter,
but when I returned home, I took out that little piece and re-read it
myself ... Was it really that boring? Well, I didn't think so, but he
was the judge, wasn't he! This little episode made me think a bit
about the 'what and why' of writing these essays. What am I trying to
do to the readers? Why am I doing this?
The second question is easily answered ...
answered with that word used by kids everywhere - 'because!'. Just
because. Because it gives me pleasure, and whether or not there are
deeper hidden reasons for doing this interests me not in the
slightest. I'm having fun!
But as to the expected reactions of the readers, I
am not so sure. Am I trying to teach them something? No. I am not
such a gross egoist (egotist?) that I would place myself in that
position. Am I trying to incite discussion? That's closer. I love
discussion and arguments, and never lose an opportunity to draw
people out ... to find out what they think about things ...
Perhaps the easiest way to answer that question
'What am I trying to do to the reader?', is to reverse the situation.
When I am reading someone else's essays, what do I want to see? Once
put this way, the question is easily answered. I want to read
something that will strike sparks. Maybe I will agree with it ...
"Mmmm ... mmm ... mmm!", or maybe I'll be dead against it ... "No
way!", but in either case, I want to read something that will incite
a reaction, that will make me think. This is why I was so
disappointed when I saw my newspaper story tossed aside so casually
that day. Obviously it hadn't struck any sparks. Nothing.
But I had got what I wanted, hadn't I! I had been
looking for comments and criticism, and this was certainly a comment.
So thanks a lot for the advice, J . I'll take your silent criticism
in hand, and keep it in mind when starting the next essay. The next
one that is ... It's too late to put some more fire into this