Fiction is the Hardest Thing


Fiction is a strange thing.

To communicate to as many people as possible, writers spend as much time as they can alone. To convey their ideas as far as they can outwardly, they travel as convincingly as they can inwardly. To transmit concepts originally to readers, they use symbols that every reader must know.

It’s not possible to do anything else, if you think about it. Spend too much time with other people, and nothing of this business called ‘writing’ actually takes place; unless writers explore their own minds and hearts, their writings won’t reach far into the minds and hearts of others; and unless writers use at least something resembling a set of symbols that their readers have learned, nothing will communicate at all.

The dangers of solitude, though, include solipsism and egoism, as well as crushing self-doubt and despair, while travelling to the depths of one’s own mind and emotions is perilous indeed. Not using words, or at least using them in a way which is distracting to readers, isn’t so much dangerous as self-defeating.

And ‘self-defeat’ is a good term for the practice of writing, in a way: writers need to conquer the logistical obstacles of their lives to achieve the conditions in which they can write, then they have to tackle the psychological minefield so that they can approach something meaningful to themselves and others, before finally learning something of the craft of ‘how to be as unoriginal as possible’ in terms of word usage so that readers will grasp their writings at all.

But the actual practice of writing, once the logistics and the psychology and the craft all fall into place - or even while they are doing so - is a joyous one nevertheless. Somehow, people want to do it and, in doing it, want to do more of it. Perhaps it’s because, in overcoming all of these barriers, they achieve something approaching an ultimate freedom: the freedom to communicate meaningfully on a potentially grand scale, a freedom which mundane life does its best to stifle.

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