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Once More with Feeling

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.)

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