My last blog post was entitled Words Shape Worlds. In it I expressed my belief in the power of words to shape the way we see the world. Sounds like a bit of a fluffy, airheaded idea, doesn’t it? It’s not and I was being quite serious. If you doubt it then contemplate for a moment the amount of time and energy that goes into word choice in advertising. Think about the billions of dollars spent each year in order to influence the way you think and act. So much money and so much research is not done without a serious thought for return on investment. People want to get inside your head and the use of words is one of the primary ways of doing it.
But words, powerful though they may be, are merely the conveyances of ideas. They are the conduits that carry living, transformative changes of perception from the transmitter to the receiver. Words do indeed shape worlds since they shape the way people perceive the world and act within it. But it is the writer who decides what words to use, how the words are assembled in order to present the overall argument. In other words, words are the paint, but the writer creates the picture.
As the perceived value of words has diminished of late so too the value of writers. The role of the writer is to amuse, to distract, to create false worlds within which people can briefly escape from the harsh realities of the real world. Readers too are told this story, so that most of a writer’s audience has come to expect to be told fairy tales the way a child would. The only difference is that a child is less willing to complain when they learn something or are confronted by somewhat troubling notions. Children, after all, are in the process of discovering the world, whereas by the time people reach adulthood most of them are too frightened to pursue any real kind of discovery further.
So the writer is assigned the role of mollifer of the masses by the powers that be, and those who venture to do something more are criticized for moralizing, pontificating, philosophizing. You can’t be a good writer if you don’t conform to the mold.
And it’s easy to go along with this sort of thinking. After all, it’s not easy making a living with just pen and paper, metaphorically speaking. Attempting to write at all is stepping outside the safe parameters, to try anything more ambitious seems more than a little foolish. And all the forces of a rather rigid social norm are pushing against you, telling you you must conform.
Those who buy and sell want you to work for them, want you to help convince others through slick marketing campaigns to buy product. They tell you life is about money and that you will starve if you do not dance to their tune. But if you are a writer, I wish to remind you that the ideas you construct from your observations and contemplations are more valuable than gold, and it is said that man does not live by bread alone.
Those who live to gather power also wish to dissuade you from your course. With guns and veiled threats of violence they will tell you that writing what you perceive to be the truth is a dangerous notion that threatens to weaken the pillars upon which society sits. Never mind the fact that what you write is merely an observation of the weaknesses that already threaten to bring those pillars down. If you write too closely to the truth as you perceive it, you will make enemies of those with power, make enemies of those who have control over the soldiers and the police and those with the weapons of violence. But if you are a writer, I wish to remind you that the ideas you write and the truths you observe are as powerful as any threat against them, for has it not been said that the pen is mightier than the sword?
The written word is both precious and powerful. They are too valuable, too sacred, to use merely to sell product or amuse. Words can connect humanity, can elevate dischord into meaningful discussion what elsewise would devolve into conflict and violence. Words lift us up from the merely physical and bestial into realms that are spiritual, magical, miraculous. If there is divinity within us, it is hewn from our baser clay by words and ideas.
If you are a writer you work for beauty and truth, not for money and safety. To the degree that you do not you are not a writer but a propagandist or a salesman. The words, ideas, and approach must be your own or else you are not a writer but a stenographer. The path of a writer cannot be dictated by anything other than the truth and inspiration he or she perceives.
Words written freely and boldly were what forged our nation. We were nothing until we embedded lofty ideas into a collection of words that became The Declaration Of Independence. Although past words and ideas echoed in the document, it was a weapon forged anew for the world that was. Writers of today, while influenced by the stories that came be for, must write anew the story of today. We must share in the boldness of those who wrote yesterday’s stories if we wish to pay proper respect to them.