Why Read?

Writing groups. What is it about writers? As God is their witness, they declare they are writers. Some want to write. Some write. Some don't but say they're writers. And if you join a writing group, shouldn't you give your best feedback. In the end, it may not be useful, but at least try your best. Right?

I've written my experiences with writing groups. They weren't good. But sometimes things that do not work out has its reasons. Here, it had led me to work with a writing coach who opened my eyes to just how crappy my writing was.

Now that my work with her is almost over, I needed a way to see if all of my edits and revisions worked. And a friend contacted me about joining a private writing group where we could workshop our pieces. What timing.

There are four of us, so two writers submit pages to be read each week by the rest of us. And then the next week the other two writers would submit pages. One of the guys couldn't make the first day, which was fine. Life either gets in the way or shits on us sometimes. I'll call him Walt.

We're three weeks into it, and Walt and I had submitted pages. I spent a lot of time going though his work, giving him mechanical corrections and suggestions, writing detailed notes of what I thought needed to be worked on. And I made sure my handwriting was legible. I'm sorta like a doctor where my writing can be illegible. Even to me.

I wrote my first drafts in longhand. There had been many times where I turned my notebook upside down, inside out, used a magnifying glass, trying to decipher just what the fuck I had written. My thoughts moved so fast that my writing tried to keep up, and in doing so my words looked like old leftover spaghetti.

Anyway, this past Saturday we met in this cool cafe on Market Street close to Union Square in San Francisco. And the group chose my piece to talk about first. Two of the writers gave me really good feedback. They told me where they got confused, where they saw some inconsistencies, told me what they liked and didn't like, specific things that I could use. Walt, on the other hand, said, "I normally don't read this stuff (fantasy)."

"You wouldn't be writing to me," Walt said.

Ah. Awesome. Good to know.

Walt continued, "For me, I need to know why I should read this. Instead of creating this whole new world, this story could have been told with regular people."

Not showing up the first day and reading my first three chapters doesn't help your understanding of my story either...

Walt yammered on about my piece, then gave me some generalities, none of which I could use, and then said it was well written.

In other words, he didn't read it. Or at most, skimmed through it.

So the question was, why read any kind of science fiction or fantasy? When real world fiction, taking place in the real world, is plentiful in real bookstores around this great nation of ours that's real.

I was listening to a personal growth lecture a long time ago, and the speaker brought up Lord of the Rings. Why would a speaker of enlightenment do this? He said that there's no guarantee when it comes to our goals and dreams, so all we can do is move toward them one step at a time. But what we can have is hope. Because it's in our despair that our dreams can fade and disappear. Lord of the Rings is really a story about hope. Hobbits, the smallest creatures in Middle-earth, do the seemingly impossible. Frodo Baggins is tasked with holding the most powerful ring and resisting its evil influence, while trekking across Middle-earth, avoid getting killed by the Orc armies, and destroy the One Ring in Mount Doom. Frodo doesn't know how he'll accomplish this, only that he needs to, so he sets out on foot with hope in his heart.

Another example is Star Wars. Luke flies into the trench of the Death Star, and he hears the voice of Obi Wan Kenobi say, "Use the Force, Luke. Let go, Luke." Luke turns off his targeting computer. We, the audience, already witnessed another pilot miss using his, and we intuit that Luke needs to trust himself. That somehow his own wisdom will guide him. In a way, the Force symbolizes intuition, among other things.

What Walt may not understand is that all stories are quests. Whether the quest is for love, revenge, balance, or world domination doesn't matter. It's in that quest that teaches us something about ourselves. It's in the ups and downs of trying to destroy an evil ring that can show hope. It's in our trust of the magical Force that we see that wisdom resides inside all of us.

And science fiction and fantasy allows the storyteller to remove the boundaries of the real world, and let's us use fantastical things to showcase truths of the human condition.