Should we care about how a page looks?

In the Preface section to his book I Am a Strange Loop Douglas Hofstadter (an established American academic whose career got a rocket launch with the success of his 1979 book Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid; I haven’t read that one but I’d only recommend the first half of his Strange Loop) discusses how he was very pleased that his publisher allowed him to entirely format the entire thing. On page xviii of that preface he makes the following two interesting (and revelatory of his approach) remarks in regards to that privilege: “I think that attention to form [in reference to typesetting] improves anyone’s writing”, and “my quest for visual elegance on each page has had countless repercussions on how I phrase my ideas.”

We self and hybrid-pubbers are no strangers to this advantage ourselves; when we self-pub especially we have complete and total freedom to control absolutely every aspect of how our books will turn out (and may we never forget what a blessing that is). The question that Hofstadter considers therefore very naturally arises for us: Should we care about how a page looks? By his own telling of the process he chose to engage in Hofstadter formed his writing to fit how he wanted his pages to appear, coming down strongly on one side of the issue and insisting that yes, we should care very deeply about how a page looks. So deeply, in fact, that we shift our writing accordingly. The opposite end of the spectrum would leave every dangling preposition that ends a paragraph alone on its own line and not care one bit – what is foremost to such writers are the words and the words only. How much room is there in the middle of these two positions?

When formatting my own books (and don’t forget that I will have a new one out this year – wink!) I made a point of starting each new chapter on the right side of the book when held open. That felt cleaner to me somehow, and although it meant that there was sometimes a blank page between chapters and sometimes not – depending on how many pages the previous chapter had – the variation involved didn’t bother me. My current thinking though is that such a move doesn’t really matter and probably doesn’t make much difference to the reader; it doesn’t make any difference to me as a reader anyway and I am probably not all that atypical. I haven’t decided yet what I’ll do for my new book but I will almost certainly keep the same physical size that my other two have (excepting the comic (ahem, graphic novel, sorry) I did with artist Eric Uhlich), purely for reasons of being somewhat anal-retentive and enjoying standardization. As far as the nitty-gritty within each page goes I am not overly concerned, although I will admit not to like seeing paragraphs that end with a single sad word standing forlornly on the left side of the page.

If we don’t take Hofstadter’s concern for intra-, cross-page, and pagination visualization seriously (or at least not to the degree that he evidently does) then what should we care about given that we have all of the formatting choices that we do? I think primary amongst the possibilities would be the use of visuals and line settings to achieve the desired pace. Our stories and story-arcs, plots, devices, subterfuges, etc. will already all point the reader in certain mental directions and will help form the speed at which readers make their way through our works; why not add formatting to our quiver? Certain visuals such as three asterisks centered on a single line with carriage breaks on either side provide strong internal brakes to a text and force the reader’s mind into a new frame; a more powerful announcement of scene change is hard to imagine (though certainly creatable). Other methods that come readily to mind are page and section breaks, inserted illustrations, those fancy barcodes that smartphones can scan and load a webpage, symbols to create an image or just to boggle the reader’s mind – the sky is of course the limit and there are no limits to having your paperback version appear one way and your ebook version another. Complete and total freedom to control absolutely every aspect indeed. Although we may or may not side with Hofstadter’s decision to promote visual form over written content we do certainly share his editing authority. Regardless of what we decide to do with that authority let’s be sure to take account of it.

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Devotion, or Loving a project

Devotion tends to get short shrift these days. It could be a byproduct of the mentality that our current economic system of favoring (well, sanctifying) consumerism has bred into us, where everything is easily disposable and even more easily replaced, or it could be a byproduct of our ever-shortening attention spans, where even the daily news comes in nuggets and the analysis in bites. Or it could be both, or something in between, or that and more; whatever is the source the zeitgeist seems to be “If it’s too hard, why bother?” Yet most things worth doing are hard, and most efforts worth making do – in some manner, in some time, to some degree – pay dividends. A friend of mine likes to say that energy expended, something really worked for, will certainly yield results, though just when is anyone’s guess. Push on a boulder hard enough for long enough and it will move. Sisyphus might disagree, or he might grimace and nod, but there you have it.

Writing a book is one of the most absolutely grueling enterprises a human being can undertake. It is also surely one of the least rewarding. Add to that the fact that it is one of the most time-consuming, if not the most time-consuming, of artistic endeavors and it’s a wonder that anyone does it at all. Yet by all accounts the writing of books is currently undergoing what might well be an unprecedented boom. Never mind that every former celebrity, ex-politician, ex-ceo, ex-fifteen minute, or ex-con, seeks to cash in on what was through the penning of a memoir and/or cautionary-advisory tale, we now also have such surprising phenomena as fan fiction writers and – yes – bloggers, any one of whom might get it into their heads to begin a book-length project. Such an undertaking is naturally a very worthy one, and to be applauded, but surely not to be entered into lightly.

A book is a child that gives none of the joys of parenting. There are no moments when you gaze at the words in your word processing document and smile sweetly, subtly, and with a pure and genuinely expressed love in your heart. There are glimpses of satisfaction, of course, we all know that, but there are no times when the singular bliss of being strikes you. Instead there is always a voice of critique, a voice of doubt, a voice of severity, and above all a voice of dread. “Did I really write that?” “How could I have missed that error/word choice/typo/poor phrasing/etc.?” “Oh my goodness…” Why anyone would do this to themselves has been considered many times on the pages of this website and the answer we seem to keep running into is simply because we must. Writers are born, it is a genetic deformity that finds expression – virus like – regardless of the contextual circumstances of its host. If you have it in you it comes out; and that’s probably one reason we also read in the way we do.

What, then, is to be done about this nasty business? In the end, I think, a book requires, a book demands, bullheadedness. Goals and targets are (or can be) helpful, but what will really see us through is simple stubbornness. Discipline. Iron will. The firm belief that this is a book worth writing, this is a story worth being told, this is an object that must be placed into the world. We will get nothing but years of trouble for the production of it, and the act will probably likewise take years off our lives, but we will do it, we will see the thing through, and once we have placed that first draft copy on our shelves to gather its dust and smirk at us we will be able to grimace back and push again on that boulder, once more up that steep hill, once more expecting that roll back. Unrequited love for a project is the stuff a writer is made of.

And a reminder that here’s one chance to requite 😉  – the freebie week at Smashwords is going on now!

https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/andrewoberg

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Smashwords freebie week

Smashwords is running a sitewide promo from the 5-11th this month; drop by to pick up my books for free and see what else you can find!

https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/andrewoberg

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The romance and the mystery of writing

Japan is a funny place. In many ways life here carries on as if it were always and forever the 1990s, and the nineties were not an altogether good decade for Japan. So it is that I still, in this day and age, walk down to my local video store to rent DVDs when I want to watch a movie (in some ways I admit that this is also a lifestyle choice as both Netflix and Hulu have recently become available in the country). On that, Japan is funny in another way too as sometimes very off-the-beaten-path movies will become available to rent but only years after they have initially been released. This makes for potential points of interest though, for if you allow yourself to remain largely ignorant of what is happening in the world of film and then rent titles based on intuitive appeal you can be surprised at times with happy accidents, happy discoveries. Paper Man was one for me this past week, and in looking it up I found that it was made way back in 2009. Remember then?

The movie’s story is fairly clichéd, and the critics don’t seem to have made much of it (Rotten Tomatoes has it at 32%), but for my part I really enjoyed it. Jeff Daniels is great in it – as he is in everything – and Emma Stone puts in what must have been an early stellar performance for her, as well as Ryan Reynolds in his much appreciated comedic turn as Daniels’ character’s childhood superhero imaginary friend. The plot revolves around Daniels’ character’s travails as a novelist under pressure to produce his second book, which he has yet to start, in just three months. He and his acclaimed surgeon and inventor wife (also played well by Lisa Kudrow) rent a house in Long Island, New York, and while his wife is doing a stint at a local hospital he is to get down to the business of writing. Except of course that he can’t, and the romantic tropes of writing are trod out for their usual but fun effects. Daniels’ character refuses to write on the new laptop he is given and lugs his faithful old electric typewriter out of its hard-shelled case, sets it up on the desk, poises his fingers over the keyboard, and naturally that is as far as he gets. He has the general plot worked out (which he drunkenly relates to much acclaim during a visit to the local pub), but he doesn’t have the main character’s name, and it is that point that stubs his vigor and prevents from typing even the first sentence. Instead he spends his days cycling back and forth between the house and town, where he befriends Stone’s character and the two gradually open up about the tragedies and the loss in their pasts and presents.

Daniels the writer is proffered as a man tortured by self-doubt and internal malaise, and although the image of the writer as a lonely and eternally depressed would-be artist is a staple of mainstream romanticism about the work it is not an altogether wrong one. We writers are, more often than not, unsmiling loners who would much rather spend time in our own company than engaged in the very social world which concerns our creations. It is one of the central mysteries of the task and the burden of writing that those who bend their thought and effort towards expressing the world in which we live are barely present in that very world. We instead inhabit our own heads and our flailing attempts at being with others are awkward, truncated, and erratic. Sit down across from a writer and you never know what you’re going to get. Daniels expresses this well, and in watching him I enjoyed the switch to a view from the outside of that which is usually for me an internal one. There is a particularly poignant moment between Daniels’ character and Kudrow’s, where he asks if their marital and general unhappiness isn’t something more of their own making than a real reflection of their situations given that they have plenty of money and their lives are “embarrassingly easy” (as Daniels’ character puts it); Kudrow’s character answers in the negative, that no, her unhappiness is real enough. It’s a question though that is worth asking of ourselves, I think, for as much as the stereotype of the suffering and odd writer is accurate surely there is a large dose of perspective involved as well. Are we really, deep down, how we are presented to be?

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On legacy

Last summer, in a post titled “Leftover words“, I considered what happens or may happen to the unpublished works that an author leaves behind them when they pass. The works might have been left unpublished because they were unfinished, or they might have been deemed not quite good enough by their creator, or they might have been considered too explosive or too inflammatory for public consumption, or they might have simply been thought too personal. One other possibility, though, is that the author left them quietly in the dark for reasons connected to preferences regarding their legacy, to how the form they wished their legacy to take might be affected by them. “Best to leave that unsaid, I think,” the drawer slides shut and the lock clicks.

The idea of legacy or reputation is an interesting one. It has been suggested by some contemporary philosophers to be the only real harm that might possibly come to one after death, the only way that some aspect of life can reach out to hurt the dead. Epicurus would have called such balderdash and I largely agree with him (scroll down to “Living while dying: Reflections on death’s harm, finitude, meaning, and uncertainty” here if for some unfathomable reason you’re interested in my studies on death), but there are undoubtedly writers who focus on the legacy they wish to have when crafting their works. You might think that this only really applies to those authors who become well-known in life and therefore have cause for such a concern, but the odd thing about books is that no one can ever really tell what will become of them. If we do decide that our postmortem reputation is something that is important or motivating to us then we must face an additional question: Write with our legacy in mind for whom? How can we predict or picture a future audience, how can we esteem what it is that we wish them to know of us if we can only guess at how they might view the world and understand our work? Will they seek to place our book in its historical and socioculutural context and interpret it that way or will they pull it off the shelf – so to speak – of its creation and appreciate it as a standalone commentary on the human, disconnected from the local concerns prevalent when it was produced? Another, more disturbing, question now comes to mind: Why should they care? How presumptuous it is for any of us to think our books will matter!

Yet they do and will matter, most certainly to yourself and most likely to those close to you. To write a book is to pour the very essence of who you are into (nowadays) bytes of zeros and ones, strings of words that may not even be legible tomorrow if some errant calamity were to wipe out literacy somehow or the language in which you write were to vanish from the methods of human communication. It is to take your entire biological being and make of it a tangible, yet quite possibly transient, object. Remain or disappear, an eternal storage in the digital cloud or a vanish into the ether of accidentally deleted files, today as we write our books matter; and as we cannot help but be future-oriented due to the type of creatures that we are our books matter the day after tomorrow too. We can see that time now in our mind’s eye and it holds meaning and value for us, real meaning and real value. It is an entirely genuine concern; we should care about our legacy no matter what it is that we create and even if we create nothing in physical terms. A person’s legacy is the only mark of a life lived that any of us are capable of making, and legacies are as diverse and varied as the people who produce them. I find no presumption in that; instead I see only the very human quality of caring about the life one happened into through no fault of one’s own. We are all born despite not asking for it and we have all had no choice in the matter but to make the most of it. What we determine to leave behind of ourselves on this fair earth is a large part of our making the most of it. It is perhaps not the most important part for all of us, and for others of us it perhaps is – no matter. We live and we die, and just as the detritus of archaeological sites tells us today how they lived then so does our own personally decided “debris” tell the world who we were and what we thought, how we felt, who we loved. All things very much worth considering.

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Storytelling

Human beings are born storytellers. Quite literally – it’s in our DNA and may have been a driving force behind the construction of culture over the course of our evolution once language had come on the scene (and it is possible to think even before then, albeit in more limited ways). We use our stories to instruct, to inspire, to inform, to incline, induce, inculcate. Stories feed us when we are young and stay with us when we grow old, they shape how we view the world and each other, they shape how we approach our lives. Stories add a richness and a depth to human existence that is almost unimaginable in its grandeur and its sweep. Try to think what your life might be without stories; if you are anything like me you probably simply can’t.

Stories need storytellers, and we would be them if we can. The odds though are stacked against us, the way too steep, too hard. Who will read our scribbles? And if no one will then why bother? There are most certainly far better ways to spend one’s time then hunched over a keyboard in a dark room with the monitor’s blue light falling on the notebook where all your character ideas are kept, alone, hungry, and tired while cats wail in the alley outside. Yet there is that drive, that burn, and it will not go away. The story must be told, and the die must be cast, come what may.

We might be surprised. Some books resonate in deep ways with millions whose own cultural background may differ from the author’s but which may bend them towards the story nevertheless. Here is a touching example of one such book, whose deeply astonishing success the author was completely unaware of until shortly before her death. Irish/Irish-American writer Ethel Voynich’s 1897 The Gadfly was beloved by generations of Russians and Chinese while the novel remained (and remains) almost unheard of in the Anglophone world. Imagine that, being a bestseller in two countries whose people and languages are as different from your own as Russian and Chinese are from English (and each other). Martin Buber’s I and Thou similarly found fame first in translation (the English version, it was written in German), although it was fortunate for him that Soviet copyright laws did not prevent his receipt of any royalties. They wrote their books out of their hearts and plunged ahead with the process of publication, devoid of any and all guarantees and no doubt incredibly disappointed with the initial results. But what could they expect writing in the way/content they did, some might object. What can any of us expect regardless of the way we write or what we write about, goes the rejoinder. Placing something into the world is a messy and unpredictable affair at the best of times, and what a time it is we live in.

The story must be told. Voynich and Buber related to the conditions they found themselves in via pen and paper, and we do so through keyboards and word processing software (and maybe some of us with vintage typewriters – until the ribbon runs out and can’t be replaced). Not to write is a betrayal to ourselves, not to make our stories heard – by however many or few and for however long or short – is a betrayal to them. Writers write. And whether one chooses to publish or not makes very little difference, I think, to the larger picture of our lives and the sorts of people we are. Like it or not, if we are writers then we are storytellers in some fashion, and we stand in a very long tradition. That tradition has seen countless lives come and go, countless tales told and forgotten, countless hours spent in unforgiving and unrequited labors of love. Yet each link on the chain is connected to the next, and they all tumble down to us now. What will we do? What will we share? You tell me storyteller, I’m all ears.

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Making assumptions

Much has been made of late of media bias, the limits of political correctness in speech, and the question of just how free a speech the freedom of speech does or is meant to or ought to entail. What have unfortunately been far less examined are the conceptual assumptions that lie behind not only every spoken or written word but the generative thoughts themselves that give rise to those words. Each and every one of us are prisoners of our assumptions and those assumptions are closely tied in with our situational and linguistic contexts.

To begin, consider Citizen X, born in California in 1995. X came of age in a time when the internet was already as normal and as daily a tool as pencils and paper; indeed for X pencils and paper probably seem like somewhat strange devices and X could well be unaccustomed to using them and far less dextrous in their manipulation than X is with her smartphone. She will have a different mindset towards such tools as her parents do, her thinking is generational and historically bound in this way. And of course not only in this way. She also views many of the turn of the millennium social issues in a way that is common for her peers and the conclusions about them that she has drawn seem entirely self-evident to her; they are non-issues in fact. It’s all so obvious. She cannot imagine communism as anything other than a set of very cool logos and the “communist” countries she is aware of are either struggling (Cuba), false (China), or insane (North Korea). Capitalism and its darling child consumerism are the only ways of life she is familiar with and such are so familiar that she does not spend even a moment thinking about them. Again, self-evident. Being Californian also carries with it particular traits and perspectives as well, and these will moreover vary depending on if she is a southern Californian or a northern Californian. Her own familial situation and standard of living, wealth, resource access, etc. will play into how she perceives her world as well, as will her genetic inheritance and personality – partially based on that genetic heritage. She is socially, historically, economically, culturally, ideologically, geographically, environmentally, biologically, bound by a tremendous amount of influencing factors. All of these and more go into making her who she is and how she thinks and she had essentially no control over every single one of them. The eyes she looks out of will be fundamentally different than those of someone in her same age cohort born elsewhere, and will be different still – far more so – than those of someone older or younger than her, poorer or more wealthy, culturally varied, and on and on. Even her birth language will color how she thinks as each language carries within it a network of associations buried behind its terms. Her Californian American usage of “freedom” will have a substantially variant nuance to it, and maybe even a distinct meaning, compared with another person’s use of the equivalent term in, say, Korean. It will contain other assumptions.

And there is the rub. We have trouble even imagining the degree to which we are stamped out by the factory molds of these forces. We are unique individuals, of course, but we are hardly in charge of our own destinies for our destinies are tied up so thoroughly with the default selves we find ourselves being. (We can of course break out of these molds through much personal effort but that is a topic for another day (and probably another text and forum).) As it goes for us so it goes for our characters. Our characters will see their worlds through similarly blinkered lenses and it is our challenge to communicate just how their thought-worlds are structured in both their broad form (social, historical, economic, environmental, linguistic, etc. factors) and their narrow form (details of personal background, traits, goals, motivations, etc.). Some of our characters may share many of these points, some may be wildly different and provide the needed conflict to drive the story forwards, but all will have them and we must never forget that when writing and when trying to inhabit their points of view as we express them. This is a task that is far from easy but it is central to being a writer of fiction, central to being a creator of characters and worlds. Within these multitude forces there are some human universals, I think (emotions certainly, basic needs – not only of a physical nature – as well, amongst others), and digging those out too is part and parcel of the exploration. As Nietzsche might have said, we need first and foremost to be psychologists. Perhaps the first subject to examine on the couch should be ourselves; what other patient is nearer to hand? If we can find out how our own minds work we might have all the keys we need to unlocking others. And then from that solid grounding our creativity will be able to soar. Let’s let it.

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Final call: “Hollow” BPO

Due to some unforeseen circumstances we had to delay our By Prescription Only short story and essay (also poetry this time) showcase that was planned for late last year. We will now be running it this spring instead. The theme this time around will be “Hollow”, as announced. See the details below for more information and send us your stuff by the first of March. Happy writing!

  • Theme: Hollow
  • Type: Essay, poetry, or short story
  • Length: Up to 8,000 words
  • Format: MS Word or TextEdit file
  • Title: Centered, Times New Roman 16 point; with a byline below also centered and in 12 point
  • Text, font and size: Justified; Times New Roman, 12 point
  • Spacing: Single, with block quotes separated by an empty line on both sides; paragraphs indented but section breaks separated by an empty line and three centered asterisks
  • Footer: www.drugstorebooks.com (on the left) © Your Name 2016 (on the right – stretched to fit the length of the footer)
  • Quotation conventions: Double quotes (“hollow”) with embedded single quotes (‘hollow’) for reported speech, single quotes for reported thoughts, double quotes to mark text off (e.g. so-called “~~”), song titles, etc.
  • Italics: Use for emphasis, book/magazine/TV show/film/album titles
  • Spelling: British English, American English, Australian English, Canadian English, Kiwi English, whatever. Just be consistent.
  • Referencing: Any standard convention is fine as long as it’s used consistently; both footnotes and end notes are acceptable, though any applicable footnotes will not be included in the opening section posted on the site (but will be visible in the downloadable file)
  • Deadline: 01 March
  • Send to: drugstorebooks@gmail.com
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Being willing to fail

“If you want to get good at something you have to be willing to fail a lot.”

That was some advice that I overheard recently and it has stuck with me, particularly the “a lot” part. As we all know, writing is one of the very least rewarding endeavors that a human being can engage in. You will spend hundreds of thousands of hours alone, ruin your eyesight, forgo much enjoyment that could have been had, and frustrate yourself in endless cycles of obsession with the process and dissatisfaction with the results. Then your friends and family will not even consider what you’ve slaved over to be worth reading – they know you and know that you could not possibly produce anything worthwhile. And so you turn to strangers in the hopes that someone, somewhere, will love and cherish your work, perhaps thinking, consciously or unconsciously, that such a result will instill some value into all of that time and effort that you invested so heavily. But alas, no one is buying.

There are very good reasons that established publishing houses are taking on less new talent and often balk at trying something experimental. Those reasons can be boiled down to two words, one of which starts with an “e” and the other a “p”. Late capitalism is a harsh mistress and were Lou Reed to get started now no one would be printing copies of “Venus in Furs” let alone churning out a run of, dare I say it, Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, yet both have enriched my life immensely. To be an artist in these waxing years of the twenty-first century is in large part to be a fool, and all the signs point to ever dwindling returns.

That is, of course, if you count returns in terms of dollars and cents. Many self-pubbers today unfortunately rush to publish their latest Great [insert nationality here] Novel without even properly going through the (admittedly grueling) process of editing and rewriting. I wonder just what it is that they’re after and can only conclude that it must be money and possibly fame. Yet if they are thinking that they can become like one of those people you read about in the circulars Kindle Direct Publishing sends out who have sold one million copies of their how-to on cleaning up pet waste and recently quit their day job to focus on writing then I’d say the odds are against them. Very enormously against them. To self-pub, or even trad-pub, these days is almost to ensure failure – there is simply too much being produced and too few readers to be had, particularly when you throw free web content into the mix. The love of reading and of books is so twentieth century they tell me…and every century prior to that for a good three to four millennia, I reply. Well, no one thinks in those terms anymore.

You won’t succeed if financial concerns are what drive you no matter what happens, certainly not comparatively. You can, however, increase your chances of something positive happening the more you try, a lesson of simple probability (some of the rules of which are described in a very approachable manner in this book, by the way). All of that trying though indicates something else: quite a lot of failing. “You have to be willing to fail a lot.” Are we? And if so how do we handle that? Expectations are inextricably tied in with motivations, and as a look at past posts shows introspection on why we even bother is a question that haunts. If you are an artist then you pursue your art, be it in the penning of songs about sadomasochism, novels about an oddly high freezing temperature for water, oil paintings about farmers committing suicide, or what have you. If you are not an artist but merely seek riches through art then a few choice words might be applicable which we do not need to go into here. We try and we fail and we try again and we fail again, such seems to be our lot. Such might be the human lot. But we never stop trying. Whether that is foolhardy or laudable I leave it to the pundits to decide; me, I’m going to keep failing.

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Reflected glory

It can be so depressing to pick up a classic. When you open Fitzgerald, Proust, Morrison, Goethe, Austen, Tolstoy, Woolf, you are not only faced with a work of profound beauty you find yourself staring into a mirror of your own inadequacies, and the glare of it all is harsh to say the least. John the Baptizer claimed that he was not even worthy to undo the sandal of the one who would come after him; he was not even good enough to qualify for that most minimal of the services that on the surface of things seemingly anyone could offer. Surely many of us who write are struck by similar feelings whenever we encounter one of the truly greats. What can I possibly do that would stack up to that?

Yet our times are awash in new works. There is no shortage of books coming out every year, every month, to say nothing of the essays, articles, shorts, and – yes – posts to literary websites. (Ahem.) There are of course a number of reasons for this trend. One is the near universal rates of literacy that the developed nations of the world now enjoy (and hopefully soon too the developing nations can achieve such levels). Another is the lengthy period of education that has become the norm, far beyond what our parents or grandparents typically underwent a mere one or two generations ago. Another still is the idea of democracy (even if not its practice) and the notion that each individual has, and should make known, their own views. Above all though is the advent of the internet and the vast changes that it has brought to communicative methods and publishing practices. Clicking open a browser we are daily greeted by a clamor of voices, a cacophony of published works. But despite it all we find ourselves returning to the classics again and again, those works forged in the fires of times when market forces were not so transparently behind the production of bestsellers and reading was an activity that you bent your will to and not just your head. Saying all this is not meant as an elitist critique of our contemporary situation – far from it – but instead simply as an appreciation for those writers and those works which, for whatever reason or reasons, have come to transcend time. What marked them? Daring certainly, the creative and innovative styles of expression they employed, the pure individuality of their poetry, their prose. The poetry, even, I think it’s safe to say, that dances within their prose. We read them and are awed.

That admiration, however, is no reason to sigh and click “trash” on your work in progress. The more we are exposed to what has been done, to what experiments and studies have gone before, the more we realize that everything has been done. There is nothing new under the sun, as Qohelet recognized nearly two and a half millennia ago – but he still wrote his book and what a beauty it is. I would like to suggest that we who write do not stand in the shadows of the greats but rather in their lineage. We are them now and who knows what our works will become? It may be puerilely optimistic to think that someone in ten, twenty, fifty, or one hundred years may find value in something that we’ve written today but the world is filled with far stranger facts than that and the experience of being human, after all, is not something that changes so abruptly nor so completely. And so what? And so we write, we give, we labor and we struggle and we leave all judgments of the adequacy or inadequacy of our own works to others. We do not write to be loved, we write to be; to be ourselves in this time and this place with these feelings and these thoughts and these reactions to the realities that now confront us. We speak out of our own era because historically we must, and we speak out of our own hearts because our honesty and integrity demand it. We who write become fully ourselves only through our writing; surely any of the luminaries listed above would agree with that.

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