For years I have been a writer, an editor and a teacher of creative writing. Now I want to share some of what I have learned along the way. Write On The Fringes is a blog about the dangers, the disappointments and the rewards of writing. It's a record of the writing of a novel, from the tantalising first inklings of an idea, through to the final draft. But above all it's an exploration of the art and the craft of writing and the nature of story, as well as a search for the essence of creativity and the complex nature of truth.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

What Are Writers For?

'Great art and literature give a sense of patterns, of laws operating beyond conventional thought.'
Jonathan Black, The Secret History,

Sometimes, in those down moments when the letterbox is full of bills, the children need new school uniforms and birthdays are imminent, I begin to question my choices in life. Not just why I write, but also what writers are for. As writers, are we responsible for what we write? Does that responsibility extend beyond ourselves to our readers? And does the content of our stories help in some way to shape the world in which we live, for better or for worse? These are, of course, loaded questions and difficult to answer clearly as there are numerous internal and external pressures on writers. Internally there are can be self imposed constraints, such as fear of failure (more on that in a later post) and sometimes limitations generated by a need to learn more of the craft behind storytelling. Externally, the state of our finances, as well as publishing trends and deadlines can at times play too great a role in the choices we make as writers.

In the wake of Roland Barthes theory of the 'death of the author', some claim it is no longer the author who is responsible for a novel. Instead it is the reader who must claim responsibility for the material he or she reads. It is the reader who, in a sense, creates the story. Certainly each reader does bring a unique personal, cultural and historical context to a story, which means in a sense that the reader 'completes' the story and enriches it with their own interpretation. However, in my mind anyway, there is no doubt that the writer still plays a major role in the construction of stories and I believe that in taking on the role of writer we also take on a responsibility to society, meaning that whatever our intention, our stories do help to shape the world in which we live. I believe too, that as readers, as viewers and simply as individuals, the choices we make in our lives and the stories we tell ourselves also have an effect on the world around us. The question then becomes – What sort of world do we wish to shape?

I am frequently shocked by just how damaged our world is, not only physically, but socially too. Much of our media celebrates violence and cynicism, anger and betrayal. A premium is placed on ugliness, and stories that 'tell it how it is' receive accolades from critics. When I began writing  Flight, I too was telling it how it is, depicting a dysfunctional character in a dysfunctional and disintegrating society. The world I created for Fern was a weary one, pessimistic and dark. However, as the story progressed and Fern discovered the existence of a metaphysical world, a note of optimism began to creep in and I found myself tending more towards telling it 'how it might be'. There are risks involved in this: the risk of putting one's head in the sand in order to hide from the truth; and the risk of being ridiculed, because words such as love, heart, empathy, compassion and soul, are so often labelled sentimental and derided in our society. And yet it is in the journey of the soul, in learning how to love and in discovering the capacity for compassion, that Fern remembers her self and in so doing, finds truth. Fern's journey is both actual and metaphorical. It is a journey into her self, plumbing the depths of her memory and retrieving what has been lost in order to become whole. It is a journey of remembering. A journey to truth. And ultimately to a vital and connected life.

Almost inevitably, fiction writers live on the fringes of society. In part it's for financial reasons, as so few writers actually find a publisher. Mostly though, the fringes represent a position from which to view the world, a position that is at once privileged and lonely. I believe it is our role as writers to do more than merely reflect the societies in which we live. Instead we need to question them, as well as attempt to break free of the constraints placed upon us by constructed truths which emphasise differences rather than commonality. We need to step outside the structures we take for granted, to 'see through' society, to be willing to turn our minds upside down and inside out in the quest for understanding. Our role is to question, document and sometimes even to foresee, and in the process, to create powerful and entertaining stories that are guides to life. Living stories that help us to evolve as human beings.

In her conclusion to A Short History of Myth, Karen Armstrong writes that 'a novel, like a myth, teaches us to see the world differently; it shows us how to look into our own hearts and to see the world from a perspective that goes beyond our own self-interest. If professional religious leaders cannot instruct us in mythical lore, our artists and creative writers can perhaps step into this priestly role and bring fresh insight into our lost and damaged world.'

Perhaps these are grandiose claims but I would like to think there are moments when as writers we reach out beyond ourselves and beyond the restrictions of language and culture and context, using story and metaphor and symbol to express what cannot be expressed merely through language. We cast spells with words, breaking through cultural programming and questioning the very basis of our lives. And in so doing, perhaps we make the world a slightly better place.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Rosie Dub. All rights reserved. You may translate, link to or quote this article, in its entirety, as long as you include the author name and a working link back to this website:


  1. Rosie, this is brilliant - thank you so much for writing it. If writers can make the world even marginally better, it makes it all worth it.

  2. Thanks for your positive feedback, Erica. The prospect of making a difference, however slight, certainly does make writing worthwhile.

  3. I heartily agree, both with the post and the other commenter.
    There is so much Emphasis on doom and gloom in both the word of media and the world of literature, it makes a refreshing change to read works that ask interesting questions and allow their characters to grow in more than one direction. By that I mean aspiring to something more than riches, romance, beating the baddies, and acquiring station in life. Maslow's pyramid needs to be used by more writers in their thoughts about what is a good topic for a story, and if possible mention shocking concepts like metaphysics, philosophy, the meaning of the universe, and other so-called "lofty" ideas instead of going for lower common denominator scare tactics. Just my 2p.

  4. A good 2ps worth! I'm not familiar with Maslow's pyramid, so wll look it up. I did have a look at your blog - it's a good one and great to read a blog dedicated to creativity.

  5. Hi Rosie

    Maslow's pyramid is summarised on p42 of my free Writing textbook, if it helps, at all:

    PS - Keep up the great posts :)
    Hope the writing is going well on the novel.



  6. Hi Joe
    I've just downloaded your book and will find it very useful as I embark on writing this feature film script which is getting in the way of the novel. Thanks so much for the link.
    all the best