By John Prince
The qualified legal answer is: “It depends.”
The real question is: Why are YOU doing this. Writing, that is.
Do you really care about what you’re writing about?
Think back to high school or college. The prof assigns a 3,000-word paper: The Splendid Courage of the Lesser Heroes in Plantagenet England. “There,” he/she crows. “That’ll hold the little buggers!” It’s due next Monday.” They say “Compose…” A writer doesn’t compose. Musicians “compose.” Writers “write!”
So, you write a load of old codswallop about the ancestral influences of Ethelred the Unready and the hints of King Knut holding back the sea and roses as icons. It’s dreck. Senseless. Stupid. And that’s where lot of people get their first writing experience. It sours them on the whole activity.
“I just wasted eight hours of my life researching and plagiarizing crap about a lot of dead people who were unimportant even when they were alive. I’ve shortened my life by a day. And for what?”
Zoom ahead to now. (“Zoom” as in the move very quickly sense.) Now you have the ability, time and permission to write about something you really care about. Something you want other people to care about. Something you want to share. Like a good joke or marmalade made from lemons you picked off your own backyard tree.
But, subconsciously, you’re soured by those old, negative writing experiences. “Why bother?” you ask. “Nobody cares and it’s hard work and I’m depressed and tired and so on.”
Who are you writing this for? Certainly not your old English or History prof. Not to get a passing grade or a degree or gold star.
You are writing this because you want to share a really good story. You want to tell it in a way that brings the characters alive, displays the settings in vivid color, makes the action crisp and true. Or maybe you want everything to be grey and tepid and dull. If it’s part of the story, then it’s important.
Why do people tell jokes? Because they want to make people laugh. Sad stories? To make people cry. Stories of patriotism and courage? To make people feel inspired
You write these books and poems and short stories because you want people to feel. Something. Period. Full stop.
And you want to share how the stories made you feel.
You have a purpose for writing.
People (it’s important to regard your readers as ‘people.’) really, really want to be entertained, learn, laugh, cry, be disgusted, fearful and a whole lot more. Otherwise, they will certainly ‘live lives of quiet desperation’ as Thoreau mused.
You want to tell a story to make people feel. And react. And live their feelings. People want to read your story to make them feel.
It’s a win-win for everyone.
Now get busy and help everybody win.