On Writers

Hemingway said writing was as simple as sitting down at a typewriter and “proceeding to bleed…” He was therefore notorious for being surrounded by stacks of prosed papers. Jane Austen may have agreed with that sentiment, except for the fact that she wrote her books by hand, and as such was most certainly to be found surrounded by a debris field of scribbled pages. Then you’ve got Jack Kerouac, who like Hemingway used a typewriter, but who wrote On the Road on paper taped together to form one large, unbroken scroll. One can only imagine what his workspace looked like. And then there are the older titans like Geoffrey Chaucer and Dante Alighieri who no doubt penned their celebrated medieval works to the dim and dancing flames of low candlelight, meticulously scrawling onto vellum parchments with scratchy quills. And if you go back far enough, you’ve got the nameless writer(s) who employed the strange technique called Cuneiform to compose the Epic of Gilgamesh on clay tablets.

The point is this: wherever you go in history, you will no doubt find peculiar, somewhat misanthropic people sequestered away somewhere, using the technology of their time to document their thoughts. These are the writers. The scribes. Those who capture for posterity the collective consciousness of a given period. They usually toil in anonymity, experiencing little or no recompense for their efforts during their lifetime, and are sometimes even persecuted for daring to express what everyone else thinks but is otherwise too scared to say. Sometimes their words are weapons or even instruments of change. A writer can, simply by converting his/her thoughts to paper (or parchments, or tablets), light a fire within the minds of a people, sparking revolution.[1] Or maybe they merely use their talent for constructing sentences to form enduring stories that echo in the hearts and minds of all who come after them.

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[1] I’m once again reminded, as I so frequently am, of something Voltaire once wrote in a letter to a friend: “Qui plume a, guerre. (To hold a pen is to be at war.)” In other words, the writer is a soldier; the wordsmith is a wielder of weapons.  His weapons (which can be weapons for good, don’t forget) can leave a more lasting impression than any blunt instrument or sharp blade could ever hope to do. If the pen is indeed mightier than the sword, who is the greater warrior, the knight or the author? My answer is biased.

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