Category Archives: audience

Writing and morality

If you too are in the business of writing and publishing, you’ll run across at every turn moral injunctions and prohibitions from the editors and publishers as well as the public, whom they represent.

These may not be first-rate editors and publishers; in fact, it’s highly unlikely. But how many run-of-the-mill ideologs are out there whose job it apparently is to confuse good writing with good morals?

Take one little literary magazine’s statement of what they’re looking for:

We seek mysteries and marginalized voices, a sense of shared wonder, inclusive art that asks questions, explores mystery, and works to make visible the marginalized, the overlooked, and those whose voices have been silenced … including LGBTQ+, neurodivergent writers, women and women writers.

Then take Oscar Wilde’s statement on the relation between art and morality (including what we’d call these days politically correct morality):

The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium. [Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray.]

Image result for oscar wilde
Oscar Wilde, 1854-1900.

We can write about mankind and human morality, or lack of it, in other words. But the choice of subject matter says nothing about the success of the writing, whether we’re talking about homosexual rights or the Holocaust. Does the writer have something new or interesting to say? And a new or interesting way to say it?

Wilde, who for sure did have an interesting way to say what he had to say, goes on: “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.”

Of course, Wilde was an aesthete as well as LGBTQ+ (wherever he might have fit within that spectrum). But his main point is simple: either you’re a good writer or you’re not. You don’t have to be writing about good or preaching good or babbling good. Chances are such babbling, which includes sticking to a prescribed set of socially approved values, and even vocabulary, makes you a bad writer, someone who’s saying the obvious, in an obvious way, who knows what he/she thinks before writing, and for whom nothing new is revealed or discovered in the act of writing.

 

 

 

 

 

Who do you write for?

Or, to be perfectly, stuffily grammatical about it, For whom do you write?

In either form, it’s a question that is put to the writer often, either by his overactive superego or by those who don’t or won’t read him.

It’s a question posed a week or so ago by a writers’ group to which I’ve belonged for two or three years, a group I call Twelve Old Ladies and One Old Man, though to tell the truth, or something like the truth, our ranks have been swelled lately by one more old man.

I was reading  the first part of a long story I wrote several years ago, a very unconventional story in both form and, evidently, content called “Bird in Hand.” The first-person narrator, a married man, eyes other women and admires their asses.

Oops! That’s the word that got the ladies excited, I fear. They dismissed the piece as something gross and nasty about “horny men,” a genre that was popular back in the 1960s. So, you see, “Bird in Hand” was only 50+ years late on the scene.

Yes, the story is about a horny old man — but much more than that. As the title implies, it’s about marriage itself, about fidelity, about solidity, about what my old mother, may she rest in peace, used to call “sticktuitiveness,” for isn’t that what we need in marriage or other relations in a contemporary world of nothing but distracting pleasures?

When I wrote the story, or when I revise it, do I imagine an audience? An ideal audience? What the hungering hordes in the fictive hinterlands might desire?

I’m afraid I don’t, not even in itty-bitty ways.

I write what I feel and what I need to express  … to get it off my chest, as they say, the stuff that is bothering me.

And it evidently bothers others, at least the ladies, which is their right certainly.

If you look through directories of little magazines in Submittable or Duotrope, for example, you can find the widest, wildest variety of tastes and topics imaginable, everything from church broadsides to pornography, with the churchly in one form or another, for better or worse, taking precedence over the porn. (By churchly, I mean journals that are seeking to validate their preferred audiences and topics, whether “LGBTQ+” — be sure not to omit the + — or “the marginalized” or “diverse” others. I mean journals with a moral, or moralistic, mission, with values that you’d damn better not forget, you poltroon, even as you’re writing.)

If I wanted to be perfectly moral, or moralistic … if I wanted to be commercially viable, I would certainly write for a well considered audience. I confess, however, I’m unable to do so. I simply hope to express myself with enough skill and patience that the result will always find an audience. I write for myself, as others have said, and trust that there’s enough of me, and enough humanity in me, to shine through to those who are looking for a glimmer.

Writing, again, is working in the dark and working in a deafening silence. The clamors of the critics are the first thing that must be shut out. And the roar of the crowd the next.