In Thoughts on Writing

Oscar Wilde once remarked, “All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling.”

Mr. Wilde was a world class wit and a sharp-tongued curmudgeon. But he was right on the money with this quip. Those of us who are compelled to write, do so from a place of true emotion. Otherwise, what’s the point, right? But Mr. Wilde tells us that genuine feeling does not alone guarantee a quality result.

For many amateur writers, the process is what really matters. Getting their feelings onto paper (or recorded in a song) is the main point of the exercise. The end result (the song, the poem, the story) isn’t as important as what the writer felt when creating the work. As a result, amateurs are much less likely to rewrite, convinced their work is finished the moment the ink hits the page. (Convinced ¬†why? – because the process was such a powerful emotional experience.)

The professional writer, on the other hand, is less concerned with his or her emotional creative experience, than with the experience of the reader/listener. The professional doesn’t judge his or her work by how it makes the writer feel, but rather how it makes the reader/listener feel. The professional wants to know: Does it work?

Don’t get me wrong. I am NOT saying that professional writers set aside their own feelings and emotions to manipulate the emotions of the listener. I think it was Robert Frost who said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” (Or something like that…) We need to feel something genuine when we create. But the professional writer recognizes that even the most intensely personal writing experience doesn’t mean the song is finished the moment you set the pen down.

(Thanks to a terrific column by Jonah Goldberg for using the Wilde quote and making me think about this topic again.)

Showing 3 comments
  • John Finney

    I’ve just begun reading your blog and am enjoying it. Thanks. This particular entry is very encouraging to me. I sometimes worry that I don’t feel as emotional about my writing as I have at times in the past. But this helps confirm my conclusions that the state of mind I’m in when writing isn’t usually a great indicator as to the quality of the end product.

    • rsterling

      Glad the blog post was helpful to you. And btw – good to have met you in Indy. Hope the conference was also a help to you. keep writing! RS

  • John Finney

    The conference was very helpful, and am thankful for your time.
    I’m back to work on “Rise & Reign!” I hope to see you and others in Atlanta in June, but got some figuring to do to see if it’s possible.

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