Our Responsibility as Writers
By Matthew Neal
In the age of social media anyone with an internet connection can become a writer. People could write before that, of course – but with computers, tablets and smartphones, the stuff we write in our bedroom alone, or on the way to work, or in the coffee shop down the street, can finally be heard. From tweets to blogs to online magazines, even more people can become writers. This brings about both amazing and terrible literature, but ultimately provides us with an amazing opportunity; it gives people a space to experiment, to learn, to try and have their writing seen. Everyone gets a voice. Literature can now represent people from all ends of the earth. People from all races and cultural backgrounds can speak out and be heard. Writers in Australia can publish in England and people from across the world can collaborate in literary projects. In both online and print, a new age of freedom for writers is coming. But with this new found freedom, this new space for writers, it has become even more important for each individual’s writing to say something meaningful. For the first time in history, ordinary, everyday people have a chance to speak out and be heard. So with this opportunity, what will we say?
A good place to start is looking back at what writers of the past have said. The influence of the past is the core foundation of writing today. Whether we embrace or reject their content and style, they shape us as writers. People have used literature to speak about almost every topic possible (just look at the vast number of genres and sub-genres there are). It has been used to explore beauty and absurdity, philosophy and whimsy, and (whether consciously or sub consciously) literature has delved into the human condition, exploring who we are. Literature has helped us understand the mysteries of the universe around us and enabled us to journey into our very being. It has spanned the vast range of human emotion and has endlessly experimented with style and form. Despite the range of themes, styles and topics covered, the writings of the past have failed to represent many. Literature has only reflected those of wealth and privilege. The modern world is rapidly correcting this, with literature from across the globe and from a vast array of social and economic backgrounds coming to the surface. With so much already said and tried, what then is left for us?
A common theme I see in literature is change. Whether it is just making a few people laugh, trying to influence politics or standing up for those in need; literature is about changing the world around us. You go into one end of a book as one person and come out the other end of it as another. Our writing should have positive change at its heart. Be it obvious or subtle, individual or across society, the literature we write should bring change to the world. Social change is not new on the literary agenda. Literature has often been written as a response to devastating situations and injustice. From Dickens’ classics describing poverty in Victorian England to Markus Zusak’s portrayal of life in Germany during the Second World War, literature has brought to light the depths of suffering undergone by many. It has provided a voice to the voiceless. By learning about ourselves and others we are challenged and called to action.
It’s this exploration into humanity which can bring about positive change. Literature needs to do more than be beautiful, more than entertain. Words possess so much power, and as writers it is our responsibility to use that power for good. We have a responsibility which we cannot shake. Of course we don’t live in a movie and we can’t expect to all be superheroes with each of our short stories drastically changing the world, but anyone who has read a good book can understand the impact it can have on an individual. Most people can agree that we want to move towards a better place rather than a worse one and this is best achieved on an individual level.
Ultimately literature should bring about a better world. This can happen in a multitude of ways. From literature which directly deals with the atrocities of the modern age to fantasy novels which take us through the minds of mythical characters undergoing moral choices; literature of all genres can get us to think deeper about our world. It doesn’t matter if it is dark satire on the state of modern politics or light comical poetry designed to bring humour into the day to day, as long as it brings about positive change. The joy of literature is that, as writers, we can achieve this goal in so many ways with creativity being the forefront of our craft.
For me writing has a purpose, a responsibility which we cannot ignore. Writing must do more. It must be more. Writing has dabbled in beauty and art, travelled through the absurd, the brutal and the experimental. Those pursuits are noble and worthy but we must now take action. We can carry those pursuits alongside a wider goal. We must draw our pens (and keyboards) and use our creativity for change. It is no longer enough for writing to simply entertain or be admired. It now must create real change.
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Matthew Neal is an English and Creative Writing student currently studying at Staffordshire University. He has been published in the Big Issue in the North and writes everything from short stories to articles, mostly focused on the modern world.