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Scott Lax Blog

Writing in a Noisy Age

Susan Sontag said, "I don't write because there's an audience. I write because there is literature."

Sontag, a fiction and nonfiction writer, wrote to achieve standards of literary excellence. She did not pander for the sake of having more readers, or “followers," in today's lexicon. Sontag studied great writers and she read incessantly. She worked for nearly her entire life to be literary - which is to say, to write things that last.

Today we live in an even noisier age than when Sontag was in her prime. The Web and many books are full of words that are seemingly just strung together, often about trivialities.

If you are an aspiring writer, life is too short to write about nothing but trivialities, or to appear hip, while avoiding ideas that really matter. To think that advertising and self-promotion and droll, often baseless observations are at all akin to the literature that Sontag produced is wrong. If you're a humorist, pointing out our foibles to make others laugh, is service to humanity. If you’re a diarist, or a blogger who simply wants to get your thoughts out there, fine.

But this blog is for those who care about writing as a serious art and craft. Sontag was an artist and a craftswoman. Read writers like her, or Joan Didion, or E.B. White, or Sherman Alexie,or John Irving, or James Baldwin, or anyone who moves you because he or she is really writing, not just typing.

In my own days of grief - my mother and sister having just passed away - I cannot think of a more important message to those who wish to write seriously than this: Try to make it matter. Have courage. Don't stop trying. Write through grief and joy and boredom. Write when you're inspired and when it's a drag. Just don't quit, unless you really don't have anything to say; because there is nobility in being a plumber, or carpenter, or stockbroker (still). You don't have to be a writer. But if you want that, be willing to sacrifice for your art. Life, my friends, goes by all too quickly.  Read More