Writers are often told, “Write what you KNOW”. What comprises what a person really knows? There are data he knows such as historical events, current events, personal experiences and there is that, which he knows, but of which he is not aware, such as how his unconscious mind influences his conscious mind, finding its way to the page. There are filters that humans use in every aspect of life—the way they perceive life, their personal realities, and the world around them. An author, then, is bound to write through his filters, and that affects what he is writes and how he writes it. This is true, I think, of anyone who writes, whether they write in journals, diaries, or class papers. The questions remain: how good is the writer and what determines greatness?
Is it valid to consider how well a writer knows himself and his environment, how educated he is in determining how good the literature is that he produces? In other words, almost anyone can write. However, what is writing well? There are methods, tricks, and styles of writing that can enhance or detract from the quality of writing. A writer can write what he knows, having learned how to write, and still not be a good writer. Therefore, I believe determining the quality of an author’s writing goes much deeper than writing what he knows.
What is it about great literature that stands the test of time? What is it about classical literature that keeps us spellbound, even though the difficulty factor of comprehension goes up due to the literature and the author being a product of an unfamiliar time in history with different societal rules and expectations? Some aspects of life change as do aspects of human societal behavior and knowledge. Yet, we relate to great works from our past as well as the present. We relate to the greatness in the writing from our hearts, as we might call it. I suggest that we relate to it from our unconscious and conscious minds; some would even call those products of our soul. In some ways, we understand why we like a piece of literature, in some ways we don’t. We just know we like it. Yet, this psychological connection is exactly the key to touching the “heart”, the “soul” of another.
Great literature is not one thing or two. It is all encompassing. When we read a great book, unless we are trained (or are adept at training ourselves), we are not aware of all the components of the book that “speak” to us. Nevertheless, I believe the truth remains that literature can only be good or great if the author brings to his writing, facts of history and society for the time period about which he is writing, and uses himself as a conduit, as an authentic voice in the literature. It is only when the writer has knowledge, conscious or not (intuition?), of the nature of people that he uses in developing his characters that help him speak to his audience so they will “listen” and enjoy.
What makes the literature unique are the author’s filters. No one is exactly alike in thought, temperament, and psychological make-up. Each person has a unique history within the history of the time in which he lives. The more an author is in touch with himself and human nature, the more he can contribute to the quality of his writing. What he offers to the world becomes a unique view of the virtually eternal nature of humankind.
After the author has lived, has gathered information about himself and the world around him, only after that can he hope to create another world of fiction that is a reflection of his own truth—that which he “knows”. His beliefs of himself and the nature of others and the world in general are his personal philosophy! The more his philosophy speaks to the truth of others’ philosophies, the more we, as a society, consider the author a great writer of literature.
While I do not ignore the importance of practicing tools of writing and the author’s competency, his aptitude/talent and intelligence, I stress that without the combination, the “right” balance of historical and social reflections, self-knowledge, personal philosophy or beliefs, without experience and that added spice I call the unconscious, authors can never achieve a work of writing that can be considered “great”!
What are your experiences in reading literature? In writing? What are your thoughts on this subject—do you agree, disagree, and why or why not? I am interested in your ideas.
Note: In the interest of simplicity, I have used the male gender word “he” and “his” when referring to authors. I do not intend offense to anyone.