When do you write something for public consideration?
I often write shortly after I’ve realized or learned something personally, a new realization to me, something I perceive to be uncommonly known, yet uncommonly valuable.
The above image is the writing grade sheet my son received for a fiction story he wrote a few weeks ago. Is it important for people to know my son got a good grade on a writing assignment? No, probably not. But there are valuable principles to be learned around this tale. I’ll return to this topic below.
Why did Truman Capote write a non-fiction book “In Cold Blood,” a book about the rural murders of Herbert Clutter, a successful farmer from Holcomb, Kansas, his wife, and two of their children?
And why was the 1960s largely homophobic reading public so interested in reading a homosexual man’s observations of the crimes? Why did Capote want to write a new kind of story, a book that many consider to be one of the pioneering works of the true crime genre?
Have you read “In Cold Blood?” If you’re a reader, why did you read it? Or why have you not read it? Are you at least interested to know whether it was written well?
Why was Capote so driven, following the writing success of his lighter fare, comedic stories like “Breakfast At Tiffany’s,” to change directions? Why did he write a book that forced readers to slowly and carefully look at gruesome details of things most people probably considered “inappropriate” to stare at?
Why did Capote spend his celebrity capital on this project? Why did he help the killers acquire better counsel? Why, after their appeals failed, did he watch their executions?
Last night, I again watched the 2005 film “Capote,” for which Philip Seymour Hoffman deservedly won the Best Actor Oscar. It is a great film. It does not quite make my “200 Films That Changed My World” list, but it still is a 5 out of 5 star film.
If you hoped I’d answer any of the questions above, I apologize, because I will disappoint you. But I encourage you to seek answers for any of those questions that spark your curiosity. I encourage you to investigate by reading “In Cold Blood” for yourself.
Why did I show you my son’s grade on his writing assignment?
Pride? Probably some. Pride in him. But one of the things my son and I may not share is writing aptitude. I did not help him write his story. I’ve never helped him with his reading or writing specifically – that assistance has come from his mother.
But I encourage my son to prioritize reading and writing. He knows it is extremely important to me.
When he was working on this story, before he got his grade, I said to him: “The reward for writing well is not receiving a good grade. The reward for writing well is knowing you have written something worth reading.”
In addition to receiving 99 out of 100, the teacher asked to keep the story, to use it as a writing example for future students to reference.
To be clear, I never got such a high grade on any writing assignment – ever. I can show you high grades in math, science, history, etc. But I never achieved what my son has already achieved – and I told him that.
Because of his mother’s regular care, reading with him, and writing assistance, my son was reading at college level in the 7th grade. His talents in those areas don’t come from my efforts as much as they come from his mother’s and his efforts.
While my son and I don’t share some characteristics, if you don’t like me, you probably would not like him, because he is and likely will be remarkably like me. His brain is on fire all of the time, searching, seeking, surveying, filtering, processing, prioritizing . . .
So what does this have to do with you?
If you are an educated person who either wishes to be a better writer or reader, here are some concepts to vet:
Writing well takes far too long.
It takes too much time. It is almost always not a clearly profitable use of time. It is not easy to measure the rewards you will receive from writing well.
When I write, I write for the few bright people out there who may get some of what I intend to convey. And I write for the few who will get more from what I wrote than I knew myself.
Writing is often not about simply facilitating transportation. As a writer, you don’t “deliver” ideas to the reader by loading them onto a train car and sending them to a reader.
Reading’s benefits are often not limited by a writing’s limitations. The benefits that come from reading a particular writing are dramatically determined by the reader’s experience and knowledge as much as the writer’s.
I don’t write for fame, for money, or to complete a work task. I write for the very few people who care to read and think closely and carefully.
The rewards for writing well are not found in a grade, a paycheck, or a set of feedback. The reward is knowing you wrote something good, something worth readers’ consideration. If you look to grades, paychecks, or “number of readers” as primary means of determining your writing’s worth, you may be headed for disappointment . . . or you may be aiming for less worthwhile targets.
Writing well takes so much longer than most people care to take. The rewards are usually seemingly small.
I write because I’ve so often benefited from the incredibly laborious and unrewarding work other writers have performed for my benefit, obscure writers like Conrad Knickerbocker, who wrote an excellent NY Times book 1966 review of Truman Capote’s novel “In Cold Blood,” a review that helped me better understand the merits of Capote’s writing:
As a student, I could get 100% on tests in math, history, science, and other complex areas of study. But those tasks were possibly easier for me than for most people because my parents gave me above average short and long-term memorization abilities. I figure a parrot, if he had opposable thumbs, could ace a history quiz.
But getting a 98, 99, or 100% on a writing assignment is far more difficult, a far more worthy goal to shoot for . . . a goal I never achieved.