There’s a misunderstanding about writing these days.
People consider Writing – that is, capital ‘W’ – as something distinct from, well, writing. The first seems formal: the type in fancy, old-cover books. The second is derided, reduced to “content,” churned out and dismissed.
This is a mistake.
Writing is about communication. There’s artistry in the construction but you don’t get points for being arcane. And the false binary of writing – splitting it into “serious” and “spurious” categories – does a disservice for everyone.
First, let’s look at the concept of “serious” writing. What bullshit. “Serious” writing is defined by an absolute lack of enjoyment to be had by the reader. “Serious” writing is, all too often, the projection of anxious child made reality: its at once dark, unclear, difficult and punishing. It scorns the reader. It is so up its own ass that it seeks to impose its sheer seriousness over, say, quality.
Nobody reads “serious” work for enjoyment. “Serious” reading is homework, perpetually procrastinated. Is it any wonder serious work is ignored?
Next comes everything else. You know, ‘writing.’ Robbed of prestige, all writing not up its own ass has been reduced to “content,” and indecipherable slush-pile that would lump everything else – including this very essay – with animated gifs and listicles. That writing is deprived of its chance to be art. It has been reduced to a vehicle for clicks, the way a chip is a vehicle for salsa.
If you’re not in an ivory tower, you sink into the sludge. So what about the middle ground?
Well, look at that: it’s tremendously successful.
Listen, listen, listen: writing that both cares about quality and enjoyability has never been more successful. People wring their hands over the success of Young Adult fiction as though it’s a problem. Even adults are reading it, they whine.
Is it any wonder? These are stories written for an actual reader and not a fucking click: of course people like them better! They’re made to be liked!
If I sound worked up, it’s because I am. For the love of God, we are the most literate we’ve ever been. Phone calls have been replaced by literal texts: people are constantly reading on a Twitter screen. And people still want to make this more complicated than it has to be.
Shakespeare didn’t write homework. Shakespeare wrote great, enjoyable stuff for the people of his time. People went to see his plays like we’d see a well-reviewed movie by a talented director. It wasn’t intentionally arcane: it was just the time he came from. So why on earth are we seeking to muddy up contemporary literature to pay homage to a misunderstood recollection of what writing is supposed to be?
Writing is communication. It’s also art. But the art comes in how it’s done. The beauty, the evocative nature, the way it flows and creates and envelops. It’s supposed to evoke, to stir, to resonate inside us. And if it doesn’t, we’re not at fault: the writing is.
Read some Miranda July, Haruki Murakami, or George Saunders today. Those are three amazing authors with intangible oddness and beauty. They’re also clear. And enjoyable. But when we forget to highlight the enjoyable aspect – the honest to goodness joy within their quality – we misunderstand why we read.
We do not serve literature. Literature serves us. And the sooner we remember that, the happier (and better read) we’ll all be.