Philosophy Versus Fiction: Writing for Change

Last week I met up with an old friend over drinks. This particular human happens to be a graduate student of philosophy at a world renowned university. While catching up she mentioned that she has been struggling with a literature class in which she is currently enrolled. I inquired as to why and she proclaimed that she does not see the benefit of fictional literature. “I mean, what’s the point of it,” she asked with a smile, knowing full well that my passion is fictional writing.

Now, to how many people this wonderful human has divulged her lack of respect for fiction I don’t know, but I’ve got to give her some credit for having the guts to say it to my face.

This was my response:

“I thought that we were friends but I think maybe I should leave now…” *Pretends to get up to walk out of the bar, ultimately sits back down and rambles somewhat incoherently about the importance of fiction as a mode for communicating philosophical thought.*

Thankfully, the conversation eventually turned to other topics once we politely agreed to disagree on the matter. Friendship salvaged.

About a week has gone by but I haven’t been able to shake this conversation. I haven’t quite managed to stop mentally replaying my response. Now that I’m in a slightly more lucid state, I’d like to address some of the thoughts I’ve since had about philosophy in fictional literature. As it turns out, there have been many.

Let’s start with a question: What is the point of writing?

There are a number of answers to this question depending on who you ask. Some will say they write to tell a story. Others say it’s to cleanse their mind of nagging thoughts.

I would say that it’s to impact the people that read what you write–to write for change. I’d even go out on a limb and say that most philosophers would agree with my answer.

So let’s get real for a minute here. If we’re talking philosophy versus fiction under the lens of impact, what is the general population more likely to read, a prominent philosophical paper or an acclaimed novel? If I write a stellar, ground breaking philosophical essay who’s going to read it? Probably a bunch of old mostly white dudes sitting around smoking wooden pipes. Maybe some PHD and graduate students will check it out too. It might even trickle its way down to a couple undergrad. lectures or to the computer screens of precocious high schoolers. But by the time it makes its way around the somewhat small philosophical world, how many people will have actually read it? How many people will be affected or change their approach to life because of this essay?

Chances are, not that many.

Now, how many people do you think have read The Giver by Lois Lowry? I’d wager most of the educated American youth who attended middle school in the last two decades. The entire premise of the novel hinges on a single question: What is the best way to live? *cough cough* Ethics. Is it worth sacrificing love and passion in order to live without pain and suffering? No one wants to deal with pain and suffering, especially when they’re in middle school, but this book has opened the eyes of many a preteen to the idea that without hardship it becomes nearly impossible to appreciate the joy of life.

Next take The Golden Compass series by Philip Pullman. This trilogy is a meditation on the suppressive nature of religion. Not to go all analytical essayist on you but I’ll support my claim with a quote from Ruta Skadi, one of the secondary characters of the work: “For all of [the Church’s] history…it’s tried to suppress and control every natural impulse. And when it can’t control them, it cuts them out.” When I was eleven I hadn’t read any philosophical texts or essays. Come to think of it, now that I’m twenty-two I haven’t read all that many either. But these books sparked my own meditative journey on the philosophy of religion that lasted well into my high school years. Hell, my mind still gravitates back to this series when thinking about religious themes or issues.

I could sit here and break down the philosophical merit of novel after novel but I think you guys get the point. Now, I’m definitely not trying to make the claim that all fiction has deep philosophical value. But personally I tend to enjoy and appreciate fictional works that push the reader to consider and question the current state of the world around them. In my opinion those are the books that people, especially young adults, should be reading. So those are the books that I intend to write.

What books have impacted your personal philosophy?

Do you write to tell a story or do you write for change?

To-Write-is-to-Change-the-World Disclaimer:

No friendships were destroyed in the occurrence of this conversation or (hopefully) in the writing of this blog post.

Creating from Something: Taking Time for Creative Input

So it’s been a while since I was last at the begining stage of the writing process. About a year and a half has passed since that fateful day when I first started building the worlds and developing the characters within The Maker’s Table. I had forgotten how much energy goes into the initial planning of a novel. The truth is that a potter cannot throw a pot without first centering the clay on the wheel. You have to lay the foundation before you can jump into the story. It’s in this foundation that I’m finding myself a bit stuck. Right now I face the task of dreaming up an entirely new world while also continuing to develop the world in which Misha, my protagonist, lives. Creating from nothing. That’s the way I’ve been looking at it over the past few days at least. But this morning, as I woke up with a frustration hangover from my lack of productivity the day before, my bookshelf caught my eye.

I traced the spines of the books I have read over the past few years. Their characters, sentence structures, tones, and settings played through my head. I thought about how little pieces of each of them had found their way into the themes, and philosophies, and dialogues of my first book. And I reminded myself that any art form, writing included, is never a process of creating from nothing. All of our lives we absorb the sights, and smells, and sounds around us. We take in inspiration from the places we see, the music we listen to, the books we read. And in turn those experiences influence our own creative output. There is no avoiding it.

I thought about all the times in the last year and a half that I had justified spending my time writing rather than reading. After all, writing is far more productive an act. But is that so true? Is it productive to focus solely on output without creating the time to absorb input? How many inspirational ideas or quotes or plot lines have I passed up since leaving my “To Read” list to gather dust?

So, as I find myself going mad from attempting to claw new ideas for my novel out of my brain, I’ve decided to search for inspiration in the initial source of my love for writing: reading.

 

 

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Current undertaking: Dune by Frank Herbert

Drafting Procrastination: Beginning the Writing Process

World,

As you’ve been informed, book number one is complete. I’ve probably read the damn thing through a hundred times. My family has read it. My friends have read it. Other writers have read it. I’ve edited/revised it after each person sent it back to me with comments. And then I edited it again just for the hell of it.

 

What I’m getting at here is: It’s time to write another book.

Let me rephrase that: It’s been time to write another book.

 

I’ve actually been meaning to start it for the last week. It’s funny what can come up when you mean to start drafting a book. Suddenly, you notice how dirty your floor is. You’d better sweep and mop it. Maybe it needs a vacuum too? You definitely don’t have enough groceries for the next two weeks so you might as well stock up your fridge like you’re preparing for the apocolypse. Now is HANDS DOWN the perfect time to clean out the toaster and reorganize your underwear drawer. Your roller blades need new wheels? Better make the hour-long journey to the best skate shop on Yelp to get them replaced. Oh, and while you’re at it, maybe you should write a blog post about how difficult it is to start writing a book.

What I’m trying to say here, people, is that starting a book is a daunting task and I’ve been doing everything possible to distract myself from it. Time to get it together. Writers all over the world are frantically pounding out the beginning of their 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo and I’m cleaning out my toaster?

Since starting my book a few of my friends who also wish to be novelists have asked me for advice. I always find myself saying the same thing: JUST DO IT. Just sit down and do it. It’s scary, I know, sitting down with a computer or notebook and embarking on a journey whose end is so very far from sight. I sat on the concept behind my first book for four years before putting anything on paper. But once the first draft is done all that hemming and hawing just seems like a waste of what could have been time spent typing or brainstorming or outlining character arcs.

The point is, I need to take my own advice.

Novel number two, here I come.

Wish me luck.

“I’m a Writer”: Claiming the Title

On our way down from the peak of Yosemite’s Liberty Cap, my housemate, Max, and I encountered two ill-prepared Hollanders with round bellies and jovial grins. With nothing more than a camera and a some stylish European shorts, they passed us on their way to complete the six hour hike from whence we came.

“How much farther to the top,” the one with the camera sang at me in his heavy Dutch accent.

“Depends on which top,” I replied with a smile, glancing towards the many surrounding peaks.

This halted their gleeful ascent but did little to deter the enormous dimples carved into the corners of their lips.

“Any top,” he chuckled, swaying gently in contentment. “Where are you from?”

“Berkeley,” Max offered.

“Ah ya, so are you in a Startup too?”

“No,” I giggled, gesturing towards Max. “He’s a pilot and I’m a…” I hesitated. “I’m a writer.”

We exchanged a few more pleasantries before they ultimately decided–despite the ominous rainclouds above–to carry on with their hike.

I walked away from the conversation beaming. I had finally done it. After so many sleepless nights spent running through plot lines and character arcs, thousands of hours of drafting and editing, after tens of thousands of words typed, I had finally claimed the identity of a writer as my own. I could have fallen back on my usual response: “Oh I’m starting a teaching job in December,” sometimes accompanied by a barely audible squeak, “and I’m trying to publish a novel.” But I didn’t. I don’t quite know why this particular instance inspired me to own up to my rightful title. Perhaps it was the adrenaline-driven rush of confidence that comes along with completing a challenging hike. Perhaps it was the light-hearted nature of the cheery Dutch man who asked the question. Maybe I was just too damn tired of discrediting all the emotion and energy I’ve put into this book. Regardless, now that I’ve claimed the title of writer I’m never giving it up.

 

 

“I am a writer.” Every syllable feels right.

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