THOUGHTS AND CONCERNS ABOUT
KEEPING WELL INFORMED—AND A LOVE STORY
Writing—as far as I am concerned—is, essentially, about ideas which you then convert into entertaining, but provocative and informative, written words. Whether you write them with the aid of a computer or a quill pen is neither here nor there (until your computer breaks down).
Every writer needs to keep a long-tailed bird handy. Use your blood for ink. You will shed it writing anyway.
Entertaining comes first because if you don’t hold your reader’s attention, he or she won’t read on and the whole exercise becomes pointless (except for the pleasure you get from actually writing—which is no minor thing).
By provocative, I mean I like to make people think—to engage their interest. Informative speaks for itself and reflects my preference for being a little wiser after I have read something. I don’t want to overstress informative, but I have certainly learned as much by reading novels as I have from deliberate studying. Apart from anything else, reading fiction taught me to write.
Mind you, I’m realistic enough to know that all my readers don’t read on. Reading is a very personal skill, people have diverse interests, some don’t like my sense of humor—and so on. Today, we have a major problem with focus. There are now so many distractions that concentrating on reading for sustained periods has become more difficult.
Am I offended when I hear someone hasn’t finished one of my books? No. I do register a slight pang—but I’m now secure enough in my work that I take such disappointment in my stride. I know perfectly well I can’t please all of the people all of the time—and don’t try to.
We now come to the question of where a writer gets ideas from in the first place. ‘Everywhere’ is the short answer. Some writers do no research, rely solely on their inner feelings—and produce wonderful work. Others do extensive research—and produce rubbish. Yet another group lead such interesting lives they have more to write about than they know what to do with it.
They say it is what you leave out that makes the book. Is that true? No—but it sounds cool.
My preference is to keep well informed, and then supplement such a base of knowledge with focused research. That’s a more time-consuming approach but immensely satisfying. I also try to lead an interesting and adventurous life—and have been largely successful in that regard.
There is a high cost to leading an interesting and adventurous life—but I happen to think it is worth it. That said, I don’t look down on others who opt for a regular paycheck. It’s a personal decision.
But what is being well informed? Yesterday I spoke to a truly delightful and intelligent woman who—quite deliberately—doesn’t follow the news. That observation made me question my own pattern of gathering information.
Her argument is that the news, as presented, is primarily negative, and does not, in fact, give one a balanced view of life.
I think she is right—and I’m far from sure being an information packrat is good for me—but since I’m innately intellectually curious I work with what is available.
Am I comfortable with that? No. I’m well aware that the news, as such, is selective, manipulative, inadequate, and distorted—but I try and supplement it in as many ways as I can with more specialized research. I also filter out a great deal of what passes for news. I really don’t need to know about a train accident in India. I am interested to know about the issues that affect our daily lives—and I also have specific areas that I follow.
I think that the most important point that she made is that the news tends to stress the negative.
Funnily enough, I have been thinking about exactly this point recently though from a different angle. I have been struck by the contrast, in this country in particular, by the negativity at the top contrasted with the many commendable achievements that are happening every second of every day in what one might think of as the real world.
Why are the media so negative? They would argue that they are solely responding to what the public wants—and that “if it bleeds, it leads,” works.
I’m not so sure it is that simple. For instance, much modern media can be traced back to the political pamphlets that were all the rage in the eighteenth century—and which were unequivocally partisan. Also, I hold to the view that the media condition our expectations to a considerable extent, so what we are witnessing is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
We then come to the issue of who owns the media. I don’t think we are best served by the media being owned by a small number of extremely rich men who will do just about anything to make themselves even richer—and more powerful. I would prefer to see the media owned and operated by trusts. I’m a believer in capitalism, but of a qualified sort. I regard the media as being too important to be be left to the whims and monopolistic tendencies of private enterprise and corporate agendas.
In truth, I doubt that trusts alone are the answer to the question of media ownership, but I am convinced that you need wide choice and that media monopoly is dangerous and destructive. I am also convinced that we, in America, aren’t nearly concerned enough about the health of our media.
Personally, I don’t currently have TV so, by definition, I don’t watch TV news (and certainly don’t miss it). Instead, I keep myself as well informed as I feel my writing requires—a significant qualification—through the radio and a fairly wide range of online magazines. I guess my favorite is www.theatlantic.com which certainly isn’t negative, but which will cover just about anything if it is interesting—and in depth. The Atlantic believes in context..
Where the positive is concerned, I never fail to get a lift from reading www.gizmag.com which focuses entirely on technological breakthroughs. Read it, and you cannot but wonder at man’s ingenuity. It also makes me wonder why—when we have so many answers—we don’t apply them. Technology certainly isn’t the answer to everything, but it can make a major contribution to resolving a whole range of issues from housing to global warming.
Since my researched action novels largely focus on terrorism and military conflict, I do spend what a more balanced person might consider an excessive amount of time keeping up to speed in these areas. Here, I can’t really defend my interests. I might, indeed, be better as a person if I focused instead on improving the environment.
But we have a tendency to do what we know and what we are good at—and this grim world is one I know, that fascinates me, and where I have a deep understanding—which translates into an ability to write compelling books (or so my readers tell me).
For what it is worth, I also write humor, about the economy, sex, satire—and even about the environment. I have an ambition to write at least one really good love story before I die.
Will I need to research that?
I don’t think I am that cold-blooded—and I am romantic. Still, if I thought a great story would result…
As far as I am concerned, writing about pretty much anything, is joyous work. Sometimes research can be joyous too.
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