Happy New Year!
I’ve had a bit of a break from blogging over the Christmas period, but I’m back now, with a few ideas to see me through the next few weeks. This first blog of the year is a bit different from most of the others that I’ve done up to now, but it’s a topic that I enjoy discussing – writing.
I’m a terrible musician. When I was 7 I had a brief spell with a recorder (compulsory for everyone in my school at that age) and at 10 I attempted to learn to play the flute. I’m not really sure why I wanted to learn the flute, but it seemed a good idea until I actually discovered how rubbish I was. Listening to music is great, but actually playing it myself is not a good idea. I also don’t especially enjoy expressing myself through art. I like to believe that I’m not as terrible at art as I am at music (I can at least draw a vaguely terrifying looking dragon), though I’m never going to be able to do anything more than a half-serious sketch. For me, the art form that I love and embrace is writing. I do a lot of it. I’m doing it right now (well, I might not be when you’re reading this). I also like to appreciate the skill of others in writing more than I like to listen to music or look at a painting. I’m not saying that writing is a higher skill than playing music or painting a picture, I’m just saying that I prefer reading to those other activities. Writing is without a doubt my favourite form of art.
Is it really an art? If you watch the quiz show Eggheads on BBC 2 (6:00pm every weekday, not that I watch it…well maybe I do), you’ll see the category ‘Arts and Books’ as opposed to just ‘Arts’. Perhaps writing is not immediately considered an art. This also leads into that tricky little discussion of what art actually is. Sorry to disappoint, but I am not going to enter that discussion. However, I will say why I think (in my limited understanding) that writing can be considered an art:
1) A writer can make their reader feel something – Just as when you listen to a movie soundtrack and it sends shivers up your spine or brings tears to your eyes, a piece of writing can conjure up your emotions. ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy is a fantastic example of this, as is ‘The Wasp Factory’ by Iain Banks. But emotion is not just limited to fiction books; I recently read ‘I’m Still Standing’ by Fabrice Muamba – who could fail to be moved by his story of death, hard work and faith? Poems, too, can rouse emotions, especially if you let go of the schoolboy error that ‘poetry is boring’. I’m a bit of a sucker for epic poetry (I’m very excitedly awaiting the arrival of a Finnish epic) and I can tell you that these novel-length poems are saturated with emotion and adventure, which brings me on to my next point very nicely.
2) Writing can transport you to another world – Some scholarly people will say that considering literature as escapist is taking something away from it. I disagree (respectfully, of course). Fantasy is undoubtedly my favourite genre (especially High Fantasy) so in my opinion, if a writer allows their reader to escape from this world, they’ve done a very good job! Just as a great painter can instill a sense of longing for a far off place in their pictures, good writers can make readers long to live in their world. J.R.R. Tolkien is, of course, famous for bringing fantasy to the adult market with his unparallelled ‘Lord of the Rings’ and since then there has been no shortage of fantasy work, some of it excellent (Like Terry Brooks’ extensive ‘Shannara’ series) and some of it is a bit terrible (no names mentioned), but the material is all there and it is capable of transporting you to worlds of myths and magic, danger and daring. I sound like a publisher plugging their latest book now. But seriously, writing can be amazing if you want a break or a bit of enjoyment in the monotony of life. I’m a bit biased towards fantasy, but all good books can suck you in…the best can make you live the characters’ lives alongside them.
3) Writing is a form of expression – Painters and musicians can use their media to express their emotions or beliefs. Christian heavy rock music is a great way for Christian musicians to affirm their belief in God whilst still letting out their cries of anger and despair. Often, I find that in heavy Christian music there is an element of hope shining through that is not present in secular heavy music. Alternatively, an artist may paint a beautiful seascape because of their love for the sea, or a picture of their home town out of nostalgia. In the same way, writing allows people to express themselves. Iain Banks used ‘The Wasp Factory’ to mock religion, William Blake used his writing to create his own religion and C.S. Lewis used ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ to explain Christianity through metaphor. The possibilities of what can be accomplished with writing are limitless. I love writing stories which express my Christian belief and poems to the same effect, but equally, I like to use my writing to express my love of fantasy and the wonder of the natural world. Writing styles differ from person to person, partly because each people write for different reasons.
Those 3 arguments, I believe, form a pretty good case for writing being as much of an art as painting or music. Maybe I’ve encouraged you to dive into a book (I really hope so) or to try writing your own (okay, I admit that that’s unlikely), but really, all I was trying to do is to bring writing to your attention. It can be uncomfortable, challenging, saddening, uplifting, encouraging, scary, powerful, beautiful; it can move you if you will let yourself be moved.