On Responsibility

Carl Tighe lists some of the main responsibilities facing writers in his book Writing and Responsibility. To tradition, to power, to accuracy, to kitsch, to censorship, and to political correctness. Personally, the responsibly to literary tradition and fiction genres seems the most resonant to me. If a piece of writing ventures too far away from that genre’s conventions, can it still be recognised as belonging to that genre? Will this make the work inaccessible? On the other hand, if the piece adheres too much to the genre, can it become clichéd? Writers can forever be in a battle to keep their work original while also remaining true to tradition and not to alienate readers.

This got me thinking, are my own stories original? I think I do try to be, but in children’s writing, like in many other genres, there are so many pitfalls that it is sometimes hard to avoid them. The authors who have inspired me most are people like George MacDonald and Hans Christian Anderson. Both of these are very didactic, morally aware writers. My work can sometimes be in a similar vein. Does this make originality harder to come by? Will these kinds of moral plots be predictable? Is it even reasonable to base a story on morality in today’s more liberal world? Morals are based on option rather than fact, so then what are ‘the correct’ morals? Is something moral to one person moral to another? Is it responsible to allow one person’s set of morals to dictate a story?

It is my opinion that the writer’s truest responsibility is to themselves. It is to tell the story that is in their hearts. It is vital to have an awareness of who their audience might be, but it should be down to the writer to decide how much impact this has on their work. I think it should always be down to them to determine what kind of writer they want to be.

This understanding is strongly influenced by my own experiences. Growing up, I had a brain-stem stroke. I could not sit unaided on a stool. I had immense difficulties swallowing, and I could not talk. I had to relearn all of these. This is why I think I have more of an appreciation for what is. It is impossible for me to think of putting restrictions on someone, to tell them what they can or cannot say when I have spent time without a true voice of my own.

This is why I consider my own position in the written world to be simple. It is not to write a masterpiece. I do not particularly want to address the philosophical questions of our age. I do not want to get rich from it. I do not even want to place myself among the pantheon of great writers. Admittedly, I would not be too distressed if any of these things did, in fact, happen to me. But I write for those who might read my work. My only responsibilities are to them. I write for their enjoyment. I write to build them a bridge into a world of their own imagination. I write to give them an escape.

I always think back to my time in the hospital. The time spent around critically, and sometimes terminally ill children. Children that have experienced intolerable pain. Children that could only cling onto the things we take for granted. Children that perhaps did not have that much time left. Although many things had been taken away from these children, they still had stories. They could still be read to. They could still explore new lands or go toe-to-toe with dragons. They could still climb mountains or set sail on an epic sea voyage. For the briefest of moments, they can see past their own bleak situations. They can be happy. They can smile. This, to me, is something truly beautiful and is something that I will forever try to put into everything I write. So, this is my one and only responsibility in writing, just to make people smile.

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