Literary expression takes many forms; from short stories to expanded documentation covering myriad subjects. Throughout history, authors have set themselves apart offering written works as diverse as romantic novels and epic tales of adventure, spanning several volumes. Within each genre, sub-specialists write in styles running the gamut from concise academic form, to sprawling embellishments of everyday encounters. Thanks to technology and the proliferation of the World Wide Web, there is a relatively new player on the field, begging the question: Are bloggers a threat to literary integrity?
Motivation Dictates Value
Before people had pencils and pens, drawings and symbols left on cave walls were effective communication. So who took responsibility for preserving thoughts in this way? The cave people skilled at drawing most likely bore much of the burden, but lesser illustrators surely weighed in too. As communication became more important to society, formalizing language and alphabets, more and more people took up writing as a form of expression. Early writers were not necessarily highly-skilled. But they wrote anyway, because they could. So the slippery slope of unskilled writers sharing ideas, whether or not they have the slightest clue how to do it properly, is nothing new.
It could even be argued that the same motivation existed for cave drawers as for some of today’s bloggers. Fame and recognition, the desire to be heard and remembered, are motivators for taking pens to paper, charcoal to cave walls, and most recently, fingertips to keyboards. What has changed over time is the relative importance of fame, heightened in an information age placing great emphasis on celebrity and adulation.
The evolution of the World Wide Web continues to change the landscape for fame-seekers. An instant audience, perhaps millions, is a powerful draw for those committed to being noticed. As a result, many bloggers put the cart before the horse; adding to the blogosphere, before they really have something to say. Blogging’s greatest threat to quality writing is found among ‘vanity’ blogs, serving only their authors; rather than informative, relevant content shared by capable writers blogging online.
In addition to personal rewards for bloggers, the practice of sharing online carries cash benefits, once bloggers establish followings. Unfortunately, poorly written blogs yield returns for bloggers able to draw traffic, in spite of themselves. When poor content is rewarded with cash, it might appear as though it undermines quality writing, but it may be too soon to judge.
Blogging is an evolving pursuit, subject to corrections as it matures into a long-term phenomenon. And just as competition influences other economic trends, bloggers face free market influences, which may eventually serve to elevate good writing and take incentives away from bloggers spewing drivel.
Purely promotional blog content, disguised as education, is increasingly being called-out for what it is, filtering-out blogs without intrinsic value. Spam gives blogs a bad name, but it also makes legitimate content shine amid the noise. In other words, bloggers with something meaningful to share will prevail, but only with a firm commitment to high quality content, and perseverance sharing their messages.
Discouraging signs may show themselves in the short-term, but blogging is not a threat to quality writing over the long haul.
Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Set in Russia during the late 1800s during an economic and social crisis, Crime and Punishment examines the importance of morality in a climate where the law’s influences have faded. Raskolnikov, the protagonist, commits a horrific crime in the hopes of proving, to himself, his country’s laws are not applicable in a moral sense. After his heinous crime, Raskolnikov searches for redemption, which he eventually finds in Sonya, a young prostitute, who he confides in. It is a dark tale, but one with a powerful message: a man or woman cannot simply do whatever they wish without consequences. It is not a story without redemption, however. Even as Raskolnikov suffers, he finds eventual peace in confession and imprisonment.
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
On the surface, it may seem merely a cruel tale. However, Heart of Darkness flourishes in its understanding of man’s many faults while exploring the horrors that accompany leadership. Marlow begins an excursion in an African jungle where he is greeted by a cast of characters who have abandoned civility in favor of survival-based methods of living. Marlow must confront Kurtz, a man who manages a dock in the jungle and inexplicably governs the nearby tribe with a ruthless, Machiavellian style of leadership. While potentially problematic due to several racist themes, Heart of Darkness unabashedly delves into the horrific nature of a man’s will to survive in the harshest physical and emotional conditions, and leaves the reader with an unnerving question: What, precisely, would you have done in the heart of darkness?
The Road, Cormac McCarthy
The most recently written novel on this list, The Road is nevertheless a captivating bridge between literature and the human condition. Set in the increasingly popular post-apocalyptic wasteland of the United States, the story follows the trials of the man and the boy, archetypal representations of a protective father and his meek, naive son. A unique study of the individual, where the man is realized as a survivor first and foremost, the man holds onto ideals of the world before, but does not utilize them. Unbeknownst to himself, the man has abandoned his country’s laws and has reverted to a more primal state. After realizing his change, the man, and the reader, try to cope with a lawless reality and an existence where the individual is truly responsible for his or her own actions.
By Selena Marimba
For aspiring writers, the type of writing that receives a significant amount of attention is creative writing. The most obvious reason is that creativity is an art, not a science, so people who are naturally creative stand a better chance at being successful creative writers than those who think mechanically. Be aware that there’s a format and approach to any writing, but the genius is not in the approach but in the idea created. Follow these easy tips to achieve your goal of being a fantastic creative writer.
It’s said that good writers are good readers. When creative writers are being exposed to another writer’s creativity and seeing how those stories translate, they’re able to learn techniques and develop skills. Expose yourself to a variety of ideas by reading all genres and all types of stories. This includes fiction, non-fiction, and even poetry. The goal here is to expose yourself to as many different ideas as possible so you can find something you may not have thought of previously.
Scribble and Jot
Write down (or record) your thoughts and ideas in a written or audio journal to go back and review later. When you get into this habit, you’ll find that there are things that don’t make sense when you first write them down but will fit together later when you are connecting the dots.
Become A Wordsmith
A wordsmith is simply someone who knows how to use words, either in speaking or writing, though generally the context is writing. For any writer, but especially for a creative writer, the goal is to use the right words in the right order, something that is a matter of both style and personal creativity. This is one dimension of writing that cannot be taught because it is intuitive. But keep in mind that there is a discipline to using your intuition since not all good ideas translate into successful writing.
Be Creatively Honest
Everyone has witnessed a bad TV episode, movie, or theatrical play. While it’s true that sometimes the acting may be terrible, the lines that they read originate from someone who wrote them. If you have a creative idea but it’s a bad one, be honest with yourself and simply reject it and move on. Over time you’ll learn the difference between good and bad creative ideas and then be able to work with the good ideas to produce writing you’ll enjoy.
Watch a show you love and think about the writing. Find what lines you enjoy the most and listen for striking stories you may have missed otherwise. Creative writing is one piece art and another formal structure. Structure can be taught, but creativity must be allowed to grow in order to see the results you wish. Both creativity and structure need to be developed through experience. It’s unlikely that your first story will be your greatest achievement, so be patient with yourself and let the creativity flow.
Selena Marimba is a journalist who writes about all aspect of education. Her recent work is on her plans to earn an MAT degree.
The following post was written for the Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries blog. The personal story that is included, I feel, exemplifies what is at the heart of the Changing Lives through Literature program. The original post can be found here.
Photo by Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig
I’ve never been one to state how others should live or choose to enjoy their lives. I’ve never found anyone who does this to truly understand anything, to be perfectly honest. My thought on the subject, and on life for that matter, is relatively simple.
Step one: Seek out what you truly enjoy doing.
Step two: Do it.
Easy, right? Now I am going to complicate things here a bit. Stay with me.
I enjoy watching TV. When I’m in a lazy mood (which is more often than I’d like to admit) I don’t believe there is anything better than sitting on my couch or lying in bed watching bad TV. I can’t fault anyone for enjoying this, either. It is easy entertainment at its most discounted price. What is missing, however, is the sense of satisfaction. After sitting and watching TV for six hours, I receive no personal satisfaction because I put in absolutely no work and received the bare minimum amount of pleasure. This is where I’ll segue to fishing, I think.
This may make sense. Again, stay with me.
Some nights, I’ll lie in bed and set my alarm for four-thirty in the morning, promising myself that I will wake up and attempt to start the old engine on the back of my boat to putter out a mile or so into the pre-dawn Atlantic and drop a few lines into the water. “It’s worth it,” I’ll tell myself. “Just wake up and make yourself do it. It’s that easy.”
But it’s not easy. It takes effort.
In my half-asleep state, I feel that fateful time on my iPhone alarm clock ticking nearer and nearer until it’s ringing loudly into my ears. I open my eyes and squint into the darkness and stillness of the morning. “I could just go back to sleep. I don’t have to get up. I don’t want to get up,” I tell myself. And sometimes, I don’t. But on some mornings, I work up enough strength to kick the covers off my feet and stand up out of bed. In a sleep-deprived haze, I walk across the wet grass in the moonless darkness and start my car.
When I get to the harbor, I still don’t see the moon or anyone on the street or even hear anyone on the radio. I get out of my car and re-stretch my legs. I take two, sometimes three trips to the dock and load all of my gear into the little leaky dingy and row feebly out to my 18-foot center console at the far edge of the harbor next to the white water lapping on the mossy breakwater boulders in the flood tide.
I start my engine once, putters, blows a plume of smoke, stalls out. I start it again; same thing but a bigger plume of smoke. On the third attempt, the engine shakes and rumbles and decides to stay running long enough for me to shift into gear. Finally, I’m off.
A few meandering gulls sleepwalk awkwardly out of the way of the fiberglass hull of my boat, parting the water, just barely showing the first glimpses of sunlight from the false dawn rising atop the dunes of the beach and the roofs of the beach houses.
As I near my supposed destination, I slow my little boat to a saunter just as the first glimpse of the sun shows its face. Then, I cut the engine; silence, but for a noisy tern circling, watching me, wondering what I’m doing. I prepare my rods and wait, either five minutes, an hour, three hours, all day…
For that moment, as I lean on the gunnels, rocking softly against the direction-less waves, hearing the water gurgle as it rises and falls through the scuppers, I’m happy that I woke up and dragged myself out of bed and trusted my old engine to get me to where I wanted to go. “I can’t believe I almost didn’t do this,” I think to myself. “I can’t believe I almost traded in this satisfaction of actually accomplishing something for a warm bed and a few cheap television shows.” The satisfaction of working hard to truly accomplish or understand something is more fulfilling than any creature comfort. I may even catch a fish.
When I find myself in the last few pages of a book, truly caring, understanding, feeling for characters that are completely fictionalized by some man or woman I don’t and will never know, I am granted this same, deep sense of satisfaction and self-awareness. I am grateful that I can feel this way, that if I invest enough work—be it physical or emotional—into what I’m doing, I can feel this way. For this reason, I am excited to become more involved in the Changing Lives through Literature program and blog. I feel that everyone should be able to experience this sense of satisfaction. I know that literature has the power to change and better even the most beat-down and hardened lives and I am ecstatic that I will be given the opportunity to witness and experience this first-hand.
I apologize for the lengthy preface to this introductory blog. So, let’s see. Let me start with some facts in no particular order.
My name is Billy Mitchell and I have never run a blog before.
I have a list of books I mean to read turning over in my mind that spans the number of books I have ever read and will probably ever read in my lifetime.
I enjoy beer and I enjoy a good book and a combination of the two could keep me satisfied forever.
My favorite author is very cliché, as is my favorite book, so I won’t get into that.
I read The Sun Also Rises in high school and thought to myself, “Wow what a happy book, I would love to be one of these characters.” I read it again a few years later and was shocked at how I could have been so naïve.
I was once assigned Tolstoy’s War and Peace to read for a class. I read and enjoyed the whole massive thing up until the last chapter where I stopped, and haven’t picked it up since. I’m not sure why I did that.
When I finish a book, I find myself dreaming about the characters more so than I do about real-life people. Sometimes I like to believe that the characters are real-life people, and convince myself so.
I still haven’t met Dean, or anyone who is mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved.
I’m still beating on, boat against the current, borne back ceaselessly.
I tend to write like Hemingway when I’m drinking scotch, which is almost never, but I can wish, can’t I?
I’m not quite sure if this is the best of times or the worst of times, but I feel it’s somewhere in the middle and I can’t hate that prospect.
I’m no Ishmael and you can’t call me that.
I’m still not sure where my white whale is; I can’t remember the last time I saw him.
I hope to never go 84 days without a fish.
I enjoy fishing and the metaphorical symbolism that comes with it, and I feel it is the closest resemblance that anyone can experience to reading and understanding a truly great book.
Hemingway said “there is no friend as loyal as a good book.” I would tend to agree, unless you have a really great dog. But I hear Hemingway was a cat guy.
So, readers of the Changing Lives, Changing Minds blog, I’ll leave you with this. Reading is like fishing, or something like that. In my heart, I recognize the ability of a good piece of literature to change the way that a person thinks about and perceives the world around them. And I think this is important for everyone to realize. No, I know it’s important. So never stop waking up early and putting in the work. Never let the temptation of what is easy or accessible or cheap overcome your need for your own personal satisfaction. I guess what I am trying to say, is this: Never stop fishing.
Press Release—Dartmouth, MA
Let Hamlet Transform You
In this video, J.C. Wallace portrays the complex role of Hamlet. “To be, or not to be” is one of the best-known lines in English literature. Wallace gives a superb performance of Hamlet’s greatest soliloquy.
This video was produced by JoAnne Breault, Director of Communication for Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL). Breault oversees CLTL’s Literature Transforms You campaign which promotes reading literature as a way to enhance lives. CLTL is based at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and was founded by Dr. Robert Waxler and Judge Robert Kane as an alternative sentencing program.
This is the second video in the Literature Transforms You series. Watch the first video—The Tell-Tale Heart.
Please comment on this post to share how literature has transformed you (or someone you know).
Press Release—Dartmouth, MA
Watch this dramatic rendering of one scene from Edgar Allan Poe’s A Tell-Tale Heart.
Exposing the public to classic literature
The Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL) program has launched a literature project called Literature Transforms You. The project highlights notable works of literature by creating videos marketed on YouTube. The objective is to expose the public to classic pieces of literature and to renew the public’s interest in reading.
“There are so many great works of Literature that people have not been exposed to. Creating a video dramatizes the experience of reading a novel. CLTL is much more than an alternative sentencing program that helps rehabilitate criminal offenders,” explains the project’s Director of Communication, JoAnne Breault. “It inspires people to read and learn—ultimately promoting literacy.”
Using social media to promote literature
Ms. Breault further states that utilizing YouTube is part of a campaign to harness social media for this literature project.
First Poe, then Shakespeare
The first video features David Mello, Supervisor of Children’s Services at the Fall River (MA) Public Library. Mr. Mello dramatically acts out a scene from Edgar Allan Poe’s famous short story, A Tell-Tale Heart.
Ms. Breault’s next mission is to highlight a work of William Shakespeare. “The first time you are assigned to read Shakespeare, there is a sense of apprehension. Once you start reading his words, they are so fluid and melodious; you forget that you are reading old English,” says Ms. Breault.
Children’s books to rival television and video games
Another video will feature a children’s story. “Children are bombarded with violent video games and senseless television. Reading books engages a child’s mind and inspires imagination,” says Ms. Breault.
Seeking volunteer readers and actors
Ms. Breault is seeking volunteers to read captions from their favorite novels and seeking potential actors and actresses to dramatize the scenes. She will perform all of the videography and editing to get the project posted on YouTube.
For more information, e-mail JoAnne Breault at email@example.com.
David Mello, the spell-binding Tell-Tale Heart narrator in the first Literature Transforms You video, is featured in a Fall River Herald News article by Marc Munroe Dion. The article discusses Mello’s gallery-displayed mask collection which includes a haunting mask of author Edgar Allan Poe. Read the full article.