Friday, 2 March 2018

Why Write?

It's an interesting question to consider, why anyone would write for others to read. Writing to make a living requires not only talent and dedication, but also a fair dose of luck – the better you are, the less luck you need, but you will always need luck. So writing with the express intention to make money from it is either foolish, or optimistic (or perhaps better to say “hopeful”).
I felt moved to write about why I write when, as I do from time to time, I was re-reading a collection of essays by Isaac Asimov. Most of these collections are compilations of his regular science fact feature from The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (often referred to simply as F&SF, though that is subject to confusion with a description of a literary genre), which might be billed as science fact, but often contained things that took a certain departure from that brief. Each essay begins, almost invariably, with some anecdote from Asimov's own experience.
In this case, an essay on non-conservation of parity in the weak nuclear interaction (more specifically, the “handedness” of electrons), he explains his reaction to being accused (as I'm sure I could not be) of firmly rejecting, never using, poetic language – specifically “cryptic, glowing, 'charged' phrase[s]”. His explanation for why this is so (though I am not entirely convinced that it is, particularly in his fiction) spoke to me quite strongly.
For one thing, my business and my passion (even in my fiction writing is to explain. Partly it is the missionary instinct that makes me yearn to make my readers see and understand the universe as I see and understand it, so that they may enjoy it as I do. Partly, also, I do it because the effort to put things on paper clearly enough to make the understand, makes it possible for me to understand, too.
I try to teach because whether or not I succeed in teaching others, I invariably succeed in teaching myself.” Isaac Asimov, “The Left Hand of the Electron”, The Left Hand of the Electron p.27 (Panther, 1976)
I think my love of writing is quite similar, though I'm not sure that I would include my fiction writing (none of which has been commercially published) in that. Well, not all of it. It might be a bit of a current through some of it… perhaps I'm just incorrigibly didactic. I suppose that is a flaw sometimes, but as in the case of the Good Doctor, not always. It's all in how you use it.
It should be clear to those who read my Quaker writings that I do not seek to make everyone see and understand the universe – or more particularly the Divine – in the same way that I see and understand it. I revel in the variety of experience and conception that we find in the Religious Society of Friends, never mind the even greater variation that we see in the world at large. I do, however want as many people as possible to understand how other people see and understand the Divine. I am best placed to explain my own understanding, but I also make some effort to help people have a better understanding of those I do not share – as in my Quaker Business Method & Theological Diversity series, or the Pantheons and Archetypes series.
Although educational theory is a passion of mine, and one in which I have qualifications, I am not a teacher in the usual sense of the word; I certainly would not be suited to teaching children in a school environment. But I feel the need to teach, indeed I feel it quite keenly. Teaching to me, though, is not imparting knowledge. As a constructivist, I don't believe that there is any effective form of education based on that idea. Teaching is providing others with the context needed for them to construct their own knowledge and understanding.
Like Asimov, in the act of preparing for writing, and actually doing the writing, I learn more. I may do research to find out more about what I want to write about, to check my understanding. I always have to make sure that my own understanding is clear, as definite as it can be, in order to express it clearly. Thus my own knowledge construction is enhanced and refined in the process of my writing.
The future of the Religious Society of Friends depends, I feel, on our ability to better understand – to understand what has come before us, where we are now, who we are and the range of our understandings and experiences. In this sense, we must all be teachers, and it isn't enough that we all teach and learn from those that we have personal contact with. Some of us, hopefully many of us, need to put our thoughts and ideas out there in such a way that it helps promote that understanding, that it helps people learn, that it enables others to construct their own knowledge.
Naturally, as with any endeavour, some are more suited to this than others. I am immodest enough to believe that I have something of a facility for this sort of communication; this is another way in which I resemble to Good Doctor, along with the fact that I would struggle to explain how I write well (assuming that I do write well, and feedback certainly suggests that my writing is at least of a fairly good quality). But like anything else, there's also the question of practice.
So I say to you, if you have the slightest inclination, if you feel you have something to say: go! Write! Exchange of ideas becoming more free and more accessible can only enhance the life of the Religious Society of Friends – provided, as always, that we can continue to deal with each other with love and understanding.
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