Writing is Lying…?

Some writer in an online forum quipped, rather glibly I thought, that writing is lying. I have to say that good writing, like all good art, reaches beyond simply inventing a story. Captain Beefheart said of Art that it is the ability to “kid yourself most gracefully.”Bad writers may struggle to do no more than lie gracefully, or somewhat believably, but good writers accomplish far more than indulging in exaggerated or complicated fibs. Dickens, Flaubert, Hardy, Bronte, Martin Amis, Rohinton Mistry, Zora Neale Thurston, Faulkner… these writers bring us something essential about living. Their work transcends ‘lies’ or mere storytelling, to connect us with deeper meanings, with the quick of life, with shadows of perhaps universal truths.

This is not fibbing, any more than making a sculpture is, or painting Guernica or sunflowers. Lies debase life. Any truly good, or great art (and writing is an art, as well as a craft) exalts life, or intensifies it beyond the mundane. Lies don’t do this. Any fiction writer with an ounce of soul is not lying, but transmuting the stuff of life via the imagination into something greater than the sum of its parts, or at least making the attempt. Sad to say, the publishing industry gets its hooks into writers and tries to turn them into money machines, by pressuring them to write to formula, but I think that’s more a case of the writer lying to himself, or herself, pretending that the aim and substance of writing is creating best-sellers and that the sublime adventure and mystery of creating don’t matter much any more.

Despite the money involved, I would hate to be in that position. I’ve been relatively wealthy before in my life, and found that my bank account did not support my spirit. The security it bought soon palled. Now, if I could write what I wanted, as I wanted, and find myself a best-seller, and then continue to write what I wanted, as I wanted, I would surely be indebted to some wonderful accident of fate. I’m not counting on it though. I will continue to write as my spirit and subconscious guide me. To me, that brings me far more than a stuffed bank account and material indulgences could ever do.

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