Friday, February 26, 2010

Does Good Writing Have to be Literary?

It’s unfortunate that a writer’s first experience with reading professional writing happens in English class with the study of literature. I say unfortunate because without knowing it, writers often get led down the wrong path to good writing. Sure, the books and stories read in literature class are supposed to be a sampling of the best. But just who decides what is the best and who are the best writers?

Because of this, writers get the mistaken impression that all good writing has to be literary. Hogwash! There are loads of great writers that never made it into the literary stratosphere.

The arts–and writing is an art–have always been a haven for those who want to be separate from the masses. In Victorian times, the wealthy, the patrons of the arts, took great pains to make sure they didn’t hobnob with the lower classes. They ate in separate dining rooms, shopped in separate stores, and read literary works. This is essentially where the division between “literature” and “writing” began. And it’s held on to this day, albeit in a lighter form.

For instance, there are some who think that if The New York Times isn’t on their coffee table on Sunday mornings that they aren’t getting the best in news. Many of these same people also swear by The New Yorker as their source of the best in writing. Again, HOGWASH!

The literary crowd probably doesn’t classify most of the best books, articles, and stories published daily as good writing. The reason for this is that the writers of these works got paid. Beginning back in the Victorian Era, the literary crowd frowned upon anyone who got paid for their writing. They claimed this was selling out. Perhaps this is one reason why many good writers died penniless.

Today, with the proliferation of technology, most people have access to good writing on a daily basis–without the approval or recommendation of the literary crowd. Good magazine articles, short stories published in magazines that people buy at the supermarket checkout, books of all kinds, and now even electronic books (e-books) that they can read on devices like Amazon’s Kindle, make it easy for nearly everyone to have access to good writing.

So if you’re a beginning writer, only look to literature for inspiration, not technique. Study all the writing around you and imitate it. That’s the only way you’ll succeed and have money to eat in the process.

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