The other morning I started filling in/out an application. It never occurred to me that both those directions would be appropriate. Regardless.
The application was for a writing mentorship. I wasn’t particularly interested in it, but I started filling it with the thought that, “Hey, if I finish it, I might as well turn it in”. I rattled off a few paragraphs for each question, but then I went back to the first question, which I had intentionally skipped to begin with because it put me on edge;
“What do you hope to achieve as a writer?”
First of all, the word achieve puts me on edge. The most in my head that I hope to achieve is to be a writer. If I were to set up goals for my writing to accomplish, then my writing would be steered towards that accomplishment. The track would be laid out and we all know how difficult it is (though not impossible) for trains to jump tracks.
However, this did bring up some thought and concern. Why do I want to write? I’ve wanted to write poetry ever since the second grade when I entered one of those scam poetry.com contests, but that’s probably/mostly because I enjoyed writing poetry. Since then my writing passes between poetry and literary criticism and philosophical sprinkling. My manuscript attempted to emphasize the relationship between text and the reader. But if the reader were to notice this relationship that I am pointing at, so what? If I go on and on about the different interpretations of a few lines in The Master and Margarita, so what? Will it be useful to anyone?
This notion of usefulness is something that I try not to think of in my writing. Because whatever I deem useful may be entirely overlooked, and the most useless words may be highlighted and examined for days on end. It betrays the idea of what a text is to try to emphasize what is useful, what should be noticed, what should be achieved through the reading.
George Steiner begins his text Tolstoy or Dostoevsky with the line, “Literary criticism should arise out of a debt of love” and the first page ends with “Through some primary instinct of communion we seek to convey to others the quality and force of our experience. We would persuade them to lay themselves open to it. In this attempt at persuasion originate the truest insights criticism can offer”.
“Debt of love” and “lay themselves open to it” I believe are two of the most important phrases in those lines. Because that is not only what a text is aiming to do, but that is what one’s own writing, whether it be creative or criticism, should aim for as well. The achievement should lie not in hitting the bullseye, but being able to aim the arrow at all, for yourself or for another.