Seven Truths on the Art of Writing: Care About Your Subjects

As I embark on a new path of study at the University of Central Florida (first classes begin on Monday, though I've been in Orlando a few times this week for orientation already), I think that this little web forum might fall into a state of temporary stasis.

I may drop in from time to time to jot down some thoughts on a particularly illuminating academic text, or maybe vent a little bit on matters of public discourse (like the Jacksonville City Council's deplorable stance on human rights), but I foresee long periods of inactivity over the next year. Simply put, I don't think I'll have the time to do much blogging.

I'm not going to nuke the site because I've grown to really enjoy blogging. It's a great way to create a record of what one's done, and where one has been. It allows for authority and permanence in the things we say and do, and our thoughts on particular texts or films or issues. I'll come back at some point in the future and re-invigorate the journal, and grow on the 700+ posts that have accumulated here over the years.

I thought, though, as a means of signing off for my blogging sabbatical, that I might record a few of the maxims that have governed my path as a writer over the last few years. Take them for what they are: one person's opinions on the artistic process.

Without further adieu:

Kurt Vonnegut states in his essay "How to Write With Style" that a writer should:

  • Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.
This is particularly important, I believe, in an era of specialization. Publishing's digital paradigm shift allows for a wide degree of latitude in both space and subject, and writers are taking full advantage of both. Novellas are increasingly common on the Amazon Top 100 list. While romance has always been popular, erotica has now pushed its way into the forefront of American reading habits (the Fifty Shades of Gray trilogy is selling hundreds of thousands of copies in a single week!). These are good trends for readers, to be sure.

As readers, we can tell when an author cares about his or her subject matter. It comes across in voice, character and setting, I think, more than anywhere else. And I think readers can also tell when a writer cashes in on a popular trend, and maybe rushes a knock-off to market because vampires are hot, or because werewolves are this year's zombie.

So my first piece of advice is to write the book you want to read. If the idea that you had seemed like a commercial dead end years ago, that shouldn't be a hindrance now. It might take time for your story to find its niche audience, but that tome about the popular celebrity chef that murders vagrants, cooks up the  choice cuts and then serves the resulting meals to unsuspecting audience members will find some readers (yeah, I'm looking at you, Paula Dean).

You can take chances and write freely. Commit to telling a story and take joy in it, and it'll come across in the writing... 

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