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Scott Lax Blog

Mere Cleverness

My earliest influences were the American Transcendentalists, particularly Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman. They began writing in mid-nineteenth-century New England. The essence of their work was to push back against the Puritan ethic and materialism, and they celebrated freedom, individualism, inquiry, experiment and intuitive spirituality. They were at the literary center of American letters for half a century.

I think it helps to have some sense of where you write from in an intellectual and spiritual (or religious) sense. When I teach creative writing, I spend the first couple of classes working with students to access their writerly selves, so that they can supplant what’s been called “the icon of The Writer” with their own writer’s sensibility.

Real writing – that is, writing that lasts, that can take readers somewhere they’ve never been – usually comes from a writer’s core. Not from mere cleverness. Cleverness that affects intellect and hides honest feeling is like weeds growing where nothing else dares: in the cracks of a culture’s spiritual and intellectual sidewalks. It’s there, sure, but often ugly and ultimately abandoned, withered and forgotten.  Read More