Bishop Robert Barron (and I am not sure why I am writing this as I suspect most everyone turn away once encountering the word ‘bishop’ – your loss – writers read the article, I will tie it up nicely to writing) had an excellent article a few weeks ago.
I’m sort of taking it somewhere else.
In it he is talking about the distantiation inherent in the social media age. The habitualized mental experience of basically experiencing reality “once-removed” as experiencing it self-consciously, through the lens of an expected audience – modulated by others. It is basically living the psychology of the class clown.
The article is based on another article written by a modern writer of the social media age who became a mother.
To quote from Barron’s article:
Most millenials never simply had experiences; they were conditioned to record, preserve, and present those experiences to a following who were invited to like what they saw, to comment on it, to respond to it. To be sure, she acknowledges, the social media, at their best, are powerful means of communication and connection, but at their worst, they produce this odd distantiation from life and a preoccupation with the self. Here is how Menkendick puts it: “I’ve come of age as a writer at a time when it is no longer enough just to write. A writer must also promote her work and in the process promote herself as a person of interest…I learned the snarky, casually intellectual voice of feminist and pop culture bloggers, the easy outrage, the clubby camaraderie.”
This, I believe, is why the next generation of writers are going to (to be blunt) suck. They play to an audience. This I think is bad. This is why you get luke-warm Star Wars sequels like The Force Awakens because the writer’s concern is other people’s experiences of the subject matter and not the subject matter itself. They are not immersed in the reality of the material, but in the reality of people’s perceptions.
They are going to suck (as a whole, not each individually) because their whole orientation is non-artistic. Now granted, a writer gets feedback, usually, while writing. But not from every Tom, Dick and Harry out there. A trusted spouse (writers usually come in pairs, or, the other is not a complete tube-zombie) an editor, a writer friend, etc. Not ‘ClenchedBeaver47’ that has ‘hearted’ a few of your FaceBook pics of your dog. Or some random stray anonymous person.
When I was a young teenager I wanted to do either cartooning or animation. I read the autobiography of Chuck Jones (Chuck Jones was the big Warner Brothers cartoon man, he did all the great ones – Rabbit of Seville, etc). The single one thing that stood out to me was the following. He was lamenting the new young writers that sometimes would start at the studios who always seemed obsessed with everyone else thought of their ideas.
I am paraphrasing him here (because it has been over thirty years since I have read the book): “I write for myself. I write what I think is funny. After I write I will see what others think of it, but not before.”
Now the article Barron is referencing is about a woman’s experience as a mother and the contrast to a life on the social media. But, I think the same principle holds true here.
The story is the baby. You must experience it first hand, viscerally. You must jump into the river of life, let it wash over you. You, your anxieties, self-consciousness – they don’t matter. How others will see it, how it will reflect on you (are you trending, baby?) all of that is preoccupation with the self and not reality – reality here being the story.
Because as unintuitive as it may sound (but actually sounds a truism) your story is not about you. It is no more about you than a court case is about the court stenographer who is dictating the proceedings.
I think this applies to almost everything. Say you are in a rock band (am I out dated, are there still rock bands?) you wouldn’t come up with a riff or chord progression, post it on Facebook and then ask, “does this sound too 80’s everybody?” Forget about it. Throw away your guitar and join me in the service industry. You are going to need a lot of alcohol… I’ll train you.