Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Standing on Shoulders

What is the first step to becoming a great writer?

There are so many steps writers take along the way to perfecting their craft. In writing, as in any art form, learning and growing are lifelong journeys, and there is no solid "arrival" point.

I'm so new to the world of writing that my first steps are not hazy in the least (I'm also quick to point out that, while it is my goal in time to become a "great writer", I don't pretend that I am one). And I want to share with you what I think is a foundational step toward reaching your dream to be a writer.

Jim Harrison reminds us of this first step when he says:
"How can you expect to be a writer until you know what has passed for the
best in the the past three or four hundred years?"

As writers we stand on the shoulders of writers of the past. Even the distant past. It is proper that, before we pick up serious pen and put it to the best of our paper, we have a good understanding of the foundations on which we scribble.

Literature has literally shaped culture in the Western world over the centuries. And while books fill all form of need and passion in today's culture, it is beneficial to understand how it interacted with culture over time.

Take a university level course in literature (you can audit a class at a reduced price, and some university or colleges, such as the University of Saskatchewan, offer free classes to senior citizens - I'm not a senior citizen, but I've got my courses chosen for when I turn 65!)

Absolutely cannot take a class or two right now? Go visit the university or college bookstore and ask about purchasing the textbooks for the course you would most love to attend. I have a well loved favorite textbook my husband picked up a number of years ago called New Messenger Literature in English. It begins with Caedmon's Hymn (7th century) and ends with Fredrick D'Aguiar (twentieth century).

A firm understanding of whose shoulders we stand on as writers leads to thoughtful, intentional writing. And a deep appreciation of the role of literature through time will strike appropriate fear and respect in our hearts as we put pen to paper. Art has always been called on to be the voice of the people, to tell the truth within it's lies, and to point to a better future.

I hope you'll take this first step toward becoming a great writer, even if you've taken ten thousand steps already.

I bid you good writing.

3 comments:

Steve G said...

This is a great reminder! We are not alone, and sometimes we think we can go out and change the world and write the next Blockbuster and we need to be reminded that we are part of a community.

Be yourself, but understand your context. It's the same way with churches. Sometimes there are things I wish to do as pastor, but I have to weigh both the process and suitability of it with who we are as a church. It's why I read a lot of church news stuff. It's not that I want to copy someone else, I want to learn the context of what is happening in church culture.

Great post!

Koala Bear Writer said...

I totally agree with this. I did a BA in English and being able to study great writers of the past centuries was definately worth it. Two of my favourite courses were the 18th and 19th century novel courses - tracing the beginnings and development of the novel, and seeing how this form of writing has evolved over the years.

LeAnne Hardy said...

Was it Stephen King who said, "If you don't have time to read, you don't have time to write"?