2 min read

A Writer’s Power

When it comes to people, writers must learn to be generous.

Writers have power, and too few of us know it.

We write the world as we see it, fixing things, states, conditions, moments, feelings, thoughts in words. We paint people—but more than artists, we paint their personalities, their emotions, their souls. In a few careless broad strokes, we can render characters of people, making use of stereotypes and archetypes to imprison individuals in boxes. With more care, and tenderness, we can make people come alive with depth of being. We can make people likeable, or lovable, or hateable. We can make angels of mortal human beings—or paint them in the light of a demonic flame.

We write the world as we see it, and so we are constantly seeing the world, observing it with our eyes and ears open. We must be constantly seeing the world anew, noticing every fresh detail.

We write the world as we see it, and so we are constantly judging, because it is required of us to know what we are seeing. It is required of us to judge and make sense of things, to fit pieces together and take wholes apart. When it comes to people, writers must learn to be generous. Generous in our seeing as well as in our thinking, and in our thinking as well as in our writing, because after all how we see things shapes what we think, and what we think is what becomes real in writing.

There is a power in writing things down. Think an ugly thought about someone and write it down, and anyone who reads your writing will see an ugly person. By the very nature of words, it is (almost) impossible to see past words and then past the author, to see the persons themselves. Words are brick walls, opaque and unforgiving. Words construct perceptions of people. When you talk about someone, you are putting them in words. But only your listeners will hear it, and perhaps they may not retain it for very long. But what you write down about someone has far more staying power than what you say about them, because long after they—and you—are dead, anyone who reads those words will have your picture of that person in their heads. And any number of people can read those words, for words are like a public good—they are non-excludable and non-rivalrous.

Writers have power, and therefore have responsibility. Learning to be generous in spirit will translate into generous writing.