Writer’s Journey: Truth Bears Repeating

“What is important is that, time after time, the stories themselves are true. I don’t mean simply that Neil Gaiman’s history is good history and that his myth is good myth – although they are. I mean that you will understand yourself and the world better for having read them, and that you will have been both ennobled and troubled by the experience; that this is not just art – all sorts of ugly and foolish things are art – but great art.”

– Gene Wolfe, Introduction to The Sandman: Fables and Reflections

In this quote we see another way of phrasing the role of fiction in the world. Humanity has a short memory but by the seventeenth century, it was the advent of the printing press which was responsible for much the same glut of material published as we now see on the World Wide Web. Possibly less in volume, but with the same difficulties as the current literary crowd has observed today. Quality control, mainly. In those days novel reading was a scandal, and novels were seen much as soap operas are seen today. Most works of fiction were published anonymously, or by unsupported authors without any gatekeepers. (Does this sound like the net today?)

There need be no judgment call on this. It’s an inevitable process of creation and there are days when a dime-store novel is satisfying for its own merits. There are days when you need to find an obscure reference or opinion on something online and it’s there. The point in bringing this relevant period of history up and comparing it to the self-publishing renaissance of today is that once before we learned that the power of story was in the lasting truth of its vision. Gene Wolfe is not saying anything that Lord Bacon hadn’t said before him. And yet it constantly bears repeating.

It matters not where you publish or even if you publish: all that matters is that you say what you came here to say and that you find the truth in it and pass it along.

In fact, it is the basis behind the old adage that there are no original ideas. At the heart of every story, even those repeated and told anew, lies a different slant of light on a human truth. Vision is a matter of artistic perspective. If an artist moves from a first story window to a second story window, they will perceive a different view of their environment. The foreshortening, the perspective, the horizon line: it all changes. And it’s supposed to change.

Therefore if a writer comes up with an idea for a tale that won’t leave them alone, and yet feels that the tale is too typical, or that people will recognize and reject the trope, and if they then set that idea aside for something more ‘original’ (whatever that is) then they may have lost an opportunity to find a truth that only their perspective – their window as it were – could provide to the world. It is through our education (not the kind in school, though it’s a start) and our experiences (and experience is another soft word for our growing pains) that we have the most to say.


Meditation for your journal: What have I personally learned about the topic I find compelled to write about? What am I ready to refute if someone tries to tell me that it’s ‘the same old thing’ one more time?’