The Ideas they Carried

Writing is taking the long road to say something simple.

                Stand up for what you believe in.

                Try not to be a dick.

                If we all work together, we can do great things.

The funny thing about acknowledging that you’re doing something complicated to convey a seemingly simple message is that what you do suddenly carries a bit more weight. Because of that, most stories weigh more than they’re worth. Readers abandon them in search for something they are willing to carry.

We write because we think he have something important to say. We package our message in a way we believe is accessible and enjoyable. Imagine you have to carry around a six-by-four-foot painting. This painting is being stuffed in your car, sitting next to you at the bar, and hung over your bed every night. What happens when you see a painting you like better? Maybe it’s a painting that you find equal value in. Well, now you’re carrying around two paintings. They sit next to you at the bar, taking up twice as much room. After you gather several paintings, you start to condense them, making your own painting to carry around so you have room for more.

And that’s what writing should be: a collection of powerful ideas, images, and situations played out to their extremes. They take up every inch of the mind when considered. I’m not saying a work that’s mostly fluff won’t do well. In fact, people like fluff. We’re overexposed to it, and we carry it around like a spare tire built on dollar menus and free samples. But what does that person’s painting look like? Considering how large it is, it’s surprisingly light. Fluff doesn’t demand more of us. It doesn’t push thought or the status quo. Fluff is being upset when someone doesn’t like the beat of your favorite song. It’s believing your rhythm is more true than anyone else’s. Of course, fluff can be shaped into muscle.

Think about people who say things like, “If you don’t think Journey is the greatest band ever, then screw you.” I mean, they have some good songs, but greatest band ever…what was I talking about? Oh right, it’s the discussion that can come from disagreeing on styles, influences, and technicalities where real value is found. Someone who hasn’t considered why they enjoy something doesn’t help us gain ground in the realm of intellectualism. I mean, blind nationalism, sure, but then they’re only a pawn to be sacrificed.

Think of a painting that tends to move onlookers. My favorite is Picasso’s Guernica. It’s not just telling you to buy into an idea, it’s really setting the stage for you to think. As your thoughts evolve, you see the painting differently. It has layers that are readily accessible to those who seek them. It also provides the want to seek those things out for the less interested. This is truly the job of a writer.

We’re not telling readers to think a certain way, we’re guiding them to consider things they might not have wanted to. We’re not telling them about how wars kill people, we’re showing them the soldier bleeding in the battlefield, thinking his last thoughts about the life he’ll never get to live because someone somewhere thought it’d be nice to have a bit more power. Even the novels with the happiest of endings want to show us the work involved in getting there. Silver spoons aside, we celebrate those who lose everything and build themselves back up.

                Why?

Because we’ve seen the value in accordance with the weight. We’ve been there in the struggle, we’ve walked the minefields, and we’re all the better for it. A good novel is a painting that someone wants to add to their collection because it screams in the voice of the heart. When you write a book where someone suffers, odds are you stopped short. It’s not real if it’s real. We strive to stretch our minds thin to mimic the life of whoever is suffering. You have to set that stage. Take away reason, take away common sense, and replace those with fear and doubt. The reader needs to be uncomfortable to really take something away.

There are those carrying around nice paintings. They make you smile, they make you laugh, and they make your day a little bit brighter. Guess what, those paintings aren’t going anywhere. They’re a dime a dozen. Some of you may be thinking, “They might be a dime a dozen, but it’s easier for me to sell roses than gorse.” Well, you’re right. But when everyone’s carrying rose-filled paintings, you’re not just going to want another flower, you’re going to want something that makes people question the inherent value of the rose.

Whatever you’re writing, saying something is not enough. Put us in there, make reader’s feel. I run into too many questions asking “how do I write better?”. Grab a gorse and you’ll figure it out. Writing is the ability to push yourself to the limit and share it with the world. You find the message you hold dearly, and you attack and destroy it, and see if it holds up. If you think the world would be a better place if we all just got along, write that story, but be ruthless. That’s how some of the best utopia/dystopia novels started. Those writers didn’t hold back, and neither should you.

The hero is hanging on the edge of a cliff, the antagonist stands over him, the jagged rocks below seem to lick their teeth, but something’s missing. Whatever that is varies from writer to writer, but that’s the blank you’re trying to fill. I want to see your novel as a painting worthy of my collection—of everyone’s collection. Don’t settle for telling me life is tough, keep me hanging on that cliff until you catch me or let me fall.

I look forward to reading your masterpiece.

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