On Writing II

The beauty of fiction lies in its ability to reveal truth in a way that sticks with the reader. Good writing entertains, great writing transforms.

Why is it that some writing lasts centuries while other writing vanishes the instant it is published? Surely exposure and connections in the writing industry are related to longevity, but the importance of these things is overemphasized. There are hundreds of best sellers every year, but how many of them will be with us in 100 years? 50 years? 5 years? It’s hard to say. Plato certainly never had an agent, yet we are reading his work two millennia later.

Plato’s longevity is really not that interesting to the modern reader. He is important because our institutions of learning say he is important. Plato, however, can teach us about what makes writing timeless. Plato’s longevity, along with other great thinkers and writers, comes from his ability to capture the truth.

What is truth? Truth is defined as the quality or state of being true. I would argue, however, that truth is a feeling. Truth is the sudden and enlightening comprehension of an event, idea, or feeling. Truth is what makes writing last. The more fundamental the truth, the more timeless the writing. This statement is not an objective fact, but it is a truth I feel is true. Get it?

Truth is relative to personal experience and is predicated on preexisting belief systems.

The best fiction delivers truth in a way that makes us aware of who we are, our ideas, biases, beliefs and so on. Fiction that sticks with us long after we have set it down has achieved the loftiest goal of literature: to capture the truth.

The nature of truth is similar to that of electrons: if you try to observe it and hold it in your mind, it disappears. To write with the intention of truth is to act the part of a prophet. Writers are not prophets, although some writing may appear, after some time, prophetic. No, writers are careful observers who stitch together disparate knowledge. As the writer makes sense of her disparate knowledge, she occasionally stumbles upon a thread of truth which illuminates the work: this is the joy of writing.

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