There's more to writing than grammar, syntax, punctuation, and spelling. Much more. What is that nebulous, hard-to-pin down quality? What is at the core of it all?
Why do we write?
Why, indeed, do we do anything? There's a whole psychology paper in that one, just waiting for someone to write it.
That hypothetical someone would not be me.
As to the writing, I know only of myself and my own pursuits. I love to tell stories. I love to play with words. I love to express myself.
But I know there's more. For me, there is a deep need to be understood. I become frustrated if I feel that someone is misunderstanding me, or just plain not understanding me. It's almost like my personhood hangs in the balance.
Dramatic, yes, but there's the core of the insecure person. And I am insecure. Always have been. Perhaps less so over the years, but still to a degree. I'm working on it.
But I'm reaching the crux of the matter here, in my own roundabout, verbose fashion. And that crux is this: Writing is personal. Deeply personal.
It doesn't matter if I'm pouring my heart out in a blog entry (which I recently did) or throwing the comically evil General Villainous into a tranquil beach scene. I want my writing to be good, and I want it to mean something.
Just prior to embarking on this entry, I read through the entirety of the "Diabolically Villainous Challenge." There's some absolutely fantastic writing in there, and some chilling characters. I didn't get around to adding an entry myself, but it has inspired me to get in touch with my darker side, something I will likely do soon.
But of all the chapters in that challenge, I think the one that affected me the most was "Bullies" by Moonwalker. Because, at the end of it all (and "it all" is pretty gruelling), we find out that it's a true story.
Personal. Deeply personal. Horrible facts about a real life, coming to rest in written form on a public website. Written by the person who experienced it. That's courage, my friends. Real courage.
I wish I had that kind of courage. I know the things I need to do in order to get in touch with my demons and exoricise them. And in all likelihood I'll do them. But not just yet. I'm working towards it, in my own roundabout, verbose fashion.
This is why I find it so hard to critique other people's writing. Because it's all so damn personal. I know the rules of grammar and all that, and I know a decently written sentence when I see one, and I know when someone's intentionally breaking the rules and when they're being sloppy, but it's hard for me to come out and tell people how I think they can improve their writing.
Because I don't want to sound mean.
Honestly, I can be a real pedant. The minutiae of writing can consume me at times, to the point where it nearly overwhelms me. Making general comments about someone's writing is incredibily hard for me, because my brain wants to look at each little issue I encounter. And that bogs me down, firstly, because it's a lot of work, and secondly, because I start to feel like I'm nitpicking.
And I'm nitpicking at someone's personal expression.
I know everyone who writes wants to improve their writing. And I know you can't improve your writing unless you get feedback on things you write. I've taken numerous writing classes, and the environment has, for the most part, been very nurturing, and the feedback mostly constructive. But criticism, even well-intentioned and supportive, can be hard to hear.
And yes, I know we're all supposed to develop these marvellously thick skins that filter out the nasty and only absorb the helpful, but how many of us can honestly say that we have that one down pat?
Not I, said the little red hen.
I have tremendous respect for writers who put their stuff out there for others to see and comment upon. I am in awe of them. They are taking pieces of their souls and putting them on display. They are allowing others to glimpse fragments of their very essences. It doesn't matter if they're writing about childhood trauma or a demonic computer that eats cucumbers. It comes from deep within them, and it is deeply, personally, theirs.
I know I take great care with everything I write. A chapter on Protagonize, a chapter of a novel, an email to a friend. It doesn't matter. It comes from inside me; it represents me out there, and I want it to be the best representative it can be. So beyond any rules of the road for grammar, spelling, and the like, I make it my own. My voice. My personality. My humour. My expression.
It matters to me.
So it take it seriously when I comment on other people's writing. I don't do it lightly, and I don't do it with anything but the best intentions at heart. I want people to know that I appreciate their "putting it out there" for the rest of us to read. And I want them to know that, if they want to improve, I'll help if I can.
Because that's the essense of writing. That's the essense of any art. Learning a craft, and then learning how to do it better. Learning how to make your statement pack more punch. Getting more bang for your buck (or word count). Getting your message out there. Getting you out there.
This means a lot to me.
I didn't even realize how much until just now.
Thank you. All of you.