I was reading Stephen King’s legendary book On Writing the other day, and I came across an extremely intriguing line:
“I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing”
When I read that, I immediately knew what King meant. If you read my previous article on applying the style guide of Friedrich Nietzsche to the world of advertising, you’ll know that I’m a big believer in “honest” writing. A piece has to reflect the author’s true, innermost reality. To that extent, writing well involves taking risks.
It’s a funny thought, isn’t it?
We don’t usually think of writing as something dangerous. But a quick review of history shows that it can be. In the Roman Empire, writers were routinely executed for penning screeds considered hostile to the emperors’ interests. The theologian Thomas More was killed for not attending the coronation of queen Anne Boleyn. In more contemporary times, Dutch Cartoonist Theo Van Gogh was executed for expressing views critical of Islam.
But the risks involved in writing well are not always so obvious, or so extreme.
In truth, it’s the subtler, quieter fears that keep us from writing well. The fear of losing friends; the fear of displeasing people; the fear of looking like an idiot. In these liberal times, we might not be killed for writing well, but our egos may very well be.
So, the next time you sit down to pen a piece, ask yourself this question:
Am I writing to please someone, or am I writing to express my own innermost truths, consequences be damned?
Because this is no less than the question of whether you are writing well.