What does a writer write about?

That is an interesting question. So many of us who make the bold choice to become writers are faced with an initial period of wondering what the hell to write about. This “warming-up” time can last many years for some of the least spirited workers. I have a professor in college whom I have come to rely on for guidance in my writing, although he only reads and comments on fiction. I’ve had him for three consecutive semesters for various creative writing courses and he is my academic adviser, so we’ve seen a lot of each other over last year or so.

I remember the very last day of class this Spring, a conversation we were having in the classroom. All the other students had gone, except for one. He was a decent writer. He had more to say than his talent for writing had to show, but that’s never a bad thing. Anyway, the professor says to the both of us, “The best thing for you to do is get married to someone who really brings home the bacon, who says ‘here you go sweetie, here’s some money, you be the artist and I’ll be the bread-winner’.”

I understood what he was saying, at the time. But I don’t think it really clicked until tonight. If either of us was going to have any chance at living a respectable life as a writer, we’d need to get hitched to some rich girls, sure I could deal with that. I hadn’t really been considering marriage, but it was never out of the question. But what did he mean by that? Sure, he’s only a professor of English at a school known for it’s STEM departments. But he makes a respectable living. He can’t possibly be speaking from experience, which I would think to be the case for such advice.

I always thought this guy has a bit of an air about him, like he’s got a secret and he knows you know about it, but he won’t tell you. Like he’s some sort of pseudo-Socratic guru always trying to egg you in the right direction without telling you specifically what to do. He tests the lot to see if they catch on, knowing only the real ones, the good ones, the one’s who maybe can’t write that well but definitely have something to say–only they would see the light.

There is nothing to write about that hasn’t been written, he tells us. The only thing different about the stories we tell is the perspective from which we tell them. The eyes of the artist see only the subject as it appears before him. We are stuck in this thing called time, scratching words onto paper, preserving the moment for all eternity. This is what is important. This is all that matters to the artist.

The advice from my professor is more than that, it is an insightful analysis of the human condition, that in order to be an artist, I must live without any hope of fame and fortune. Art isn’t what the people want anymore. Money and greed has changed that. Technology has changed that. Time has changed that. The words here on this blog are themselves representative of the apparent death of Big-A Art. The market has been suddenly and rapidly flooded with every Tom, Dick, and Larry’s contribution to whatever artistic medium, so the only way to make any profit is to cater to the multitudes. In which case, big-A Art loses its flair, its meaning, its singularity, its value.

I live in a time where art is tried by the court of the world, and judged in accordance to its popularity. The world enjoys simplicity and ease of access. Where fits art into the formula? And so I am to accept that no matter the quality of my art, it will never be cherished and praised by the multitudes, nor probably by scholars and bibliophiles of future generations to come. The information age is the beginning of the death of Art. I can hope that our society transforms and will once again be able to appreciate true and inspired art, but it might be more likely that time-travel becomes possible.

I can do one of two things. I can be the artist who writes as he sees the world and have faith that my art is truly saying something despite not selling, or I can write work that sells and have faith that because it is loved by the people, it is truly art.

As I was saying above, every writer goes through some initial dilemma over what to write about. I’ve broken down the problem and come up with ultimately two options. As it stands, I’m still struggling to find the right answer. I’ll leave that up to you.


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