Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"Must be Useful to the World"

The remains of a Free Will Baptist Church bus
To end the month of January, the PBS News Hour interviewed  writing teacher and author Roger Rosenblatt about writing and his latest book, "Unless it Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing."

The interview with Rosenblatt is quite good.  Jefferey Brown seems genuinely engaged in the interview.  It's as if he's had aspirations towards writing himself and is asking questions his writerly self needs answers to.

When Brown asks Rosenblatt why he writes, Rosenblatt's answer is quite succinct:
We write to make suffering endurable, evil intelligible, justice desirable and love possible. And I can elaborate on those things.
But the most important is love. That after all the suffering, all the injustice, all the evil that one sees in the world, if you can rise above it and make it beautiful, and thus lovable then that's worth a life.
The follow up exchange is equally as challenging for a writer:

JEFFREY BROWN: You also, in the final -- in the final section, in your advice to students, you -- you say, what they write -- quote -- "must be useful to the world."
That's a -- I mean, that's an interesting -- that's a sort of high bar to put to people, right?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: I think it's the only standard that after all -- all the parts are put together, and I give them that they should strive for anticipation, rather than surprise, imagination, rather than invention, and various specific things, and to write with precision and restraint.
When all the parts are in place, why do you do it? You do it to make the world better. Who would not want to make the world better? And, so, that is the ultimate definition of being useful."

I had given this same idea a lot of thought when I decided I wanted to write for kids:  There's already more than enough garbage out there.  What could I write that would be worth someone's time to read? What could I possibly write that would make the world a bit better?

I'll save the story of how I answered that question for myself for tomorrow.  Suffice it to say, it had something to do with the film the still to the right is taken from.

How about you?  Did you set a bar for yourself before you started writing?  Have you considered that your writing should make the world a better place?

-- Tom