I’ve been writing stories since I was five, the word writing used loosely, as a placeholder for scribble or thought-spew. Stories about monsters in caves and talking dolphins and far-away kingdoms filled up my little head. They still do. However, I wonder now where these stories come from. Believe it or not, never in my life have I been a dolphin. But that’s what I chose to write about. As a child, I want to write about my world, the one in my head. The problem here is that my world is so comparatively small to that of the one I really live in. I write from my (distant) point of view, and I withhold information from my writing that I don’t know what to do with.
I am not alone in these habits. From my years as an angsty middle schooler I discovered a few things about what I felt it meant to write well. Among the self-imposed rules I’ve just listed, I’ve noticed in young writers a trend. To write from some cabin in the woods. To write while sitting at a little wooden desk, the sign GONE WRITING pasted on the door. Writing as if it were meant always to be kept secret.
What I mean by this, Gone Writing, is writers fall into a peculiar trap of milling about in their own heads, living in an undeveloped world. Young writers stare at a blank page in perfect solitude and yet they wonder why no words fall onto the page. Because without a life lived, one of observing the ups and downs the universe feeds us, a writer is not a writer.
It’s almost like writing removes a person from day-to-day life and inserts her into a nebular landscape in which the world’s problems fall out of view and no one uses cellphones. Technology is vastly ignored and swept aside in fiction. Some sound advice comes from Allison Gibson’s article in The Millions on technology in fiction: Think of it this way: in most cases, a bowel movement will not move the plot forward; an email will. Apply this talk about technology to all aspects of the literary sphere. Characters rarely ever text or Facebook message each other — but what about the news? What’s on TV in this world you write? Does your protagonist support Obamacare? And so on.
Writing reveals truths that are otherwise unexplainable. Please don’t ask me how I know this, because I won’t be explain it. What I do know is that there are writers a plenty, young and old, who write short stories that take place in quaint little houses in small midwestern cities where everyone knows each other and the only conflict comes from the protagonist’s desire to be understood. Inner conflict in and of itself is not problematic. But failing to even acknowledge a world (of any kind) outside the book or the play or the poem may make it difficult to realize the potential of your art. Without these outside influences, be it technology, politics, or even racial issues, a writer cannot grow and cannot learn, both crucial to the craft.
At its core, literature — plays, fiction, essays, poetry — serves to communicate a message to an audience, of any kind really, but a message nevertheless. Art is communication. So, we as writers must never disregard any reality or take it as granted. Embrace context. Before writing about talking animals and castles and fairytales, which are all great and wonderful, take into equal consideration all parts of our world. It is too special to ignore. Heed this warning, young writers — don’t live in your own little universe. The future of literature depends upon an acknowledgement of this world, right now, its flowers and its weeds. Don’t go somewhere else to write. Just write.