What is the Purpose of a Writer?
What really is the purpose of a writer? I have wondered on many occasions. Is there a purpose at all? Or is it just fun and games, wherein one does it simply because one likes and enjoys it?
Many respected writers, who shall remain unnamed, have expressed their views on this controversial question. Many have laid down their opinion with such conviction as if their opinion were actually a rule, a law that cannot be denied.
The usual opinion goes something like this: It is a writer’s responsibility to write about the social and political issues prevalent in the society they live in. It is the writer’s responsibility to use their writing as a weapon to fight injustice. It is the writer’s ultimate responsibility to point out and criticize the wrongs committed in society or by society, to address the dark inhuman side of humanity and of the world. A writer must criticize and analyze their surroundings, condemning things that need to be condemned, extolling things that need to be extolled, and creating awareness of issues that need to be spoken about, addressed, and cured.
Basically, it is the duty of the writer to use his position as a writer to stand up for what is right and purge and rid society of all its evil elements.
That is the argument put forward by many great writers whom I personally admire but cannot agree with on this particular question.
Does a writer have a responsibility to do all of the above things? I do not think so. Must a writer necessarily have to carry the burden of such social responsibility? Is it mandatory? Is it a rule of law or an unsaid rule? Again, I do not think so.
Now, before you rush to condemn me, please allow me to explain myself.
I do believe that it is important (though not compulsory) for there to be writers who do address such socio-political or other issues prevalent in our society. I believe they act as a great catalyst for change. Change for the good, that is. I believe they are invaluable to society, for they are brave enough to address, highlight, and create awareness about the dark side of human beings. They are courageous enough to criticize something wrong when they see it. Courageous enough to condemn it and ridicule it. They sometimes show us the right way, and if they do not do that, they at least show us the wrong way, thereby forcing us to stop in our tracks and search for the right way.
And that is why I greatly admire writers such as Toni Morrison and John Steinbeck and James Baldwin and William Faulkner and Maxim Gorky and George Orwell and many others who have addressed social, political, racial, and other issues in their writings. I understand the importance of such writers. I see their significance to society. I see their purpose, and their vision, and I truly admire it all.
I know why To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is an important (almost necessary) book to read. And I understand why Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, and Animal Farm and 1984 by George Orwell are regarded as works of great social and political importance. I understand and agree with that popular opinion. Such writers and their works are no doubt necessary, for they bravely hold up a mirror to our society of the past, present, and future.
And over the years, such writers have shown us the wrong, inhumane path that we were treading so proudly. They have forced us to acknowledge our hypocrisy, our cruelty, and our wrongdoings toward our fellow human beings. And they have forced us to look for a new, more humane path to tread.
All that being said, I shall now express my honest opinion about the topic at hand. I do not believe that any writer has, or must be forced to have, any kind of such social responsibility, no matter their position in life or their prowess with the written word. I have heard writers, who dare to write on such issues, criticize the writers who do not or refuse to do so yet. I have heard and read writers expressing with conviction that one cannot be called a proper or serious writer if one does not take on the burden of this social responsibility of writing on societal issues. I have even seen them go as far as to claim that a writer that does not write on such issues is, indeed, not a writer at all.
And to this I say, with all due respect to the writers who hold such an opinion, it is all a bunch of nonsense. Utter nonsense. For who is this person who gets to decide who shall be considered a proper or serious writer and who shall not? Where is this secret committee that has laid down the law stating that all writers, in order to be considered true writers, must necessarily write on these issues of mankind? Who gave these writers the right to say with such conviction that writers who do not use their writings to highlight the injustices of society are not writers at all? Who is anyone to sit and condemn or ridicule the other? To judge and forsake the other, especially one in the same profession as them?
For, I believe, if a writer does not understand the need of another writer to write whatever they wish to and want to write, then no one will and no one should. I struggle to understand how a writer, say one who writes on societal issues, fails to understand the desire of another writer who wishes to write something purely for entertainment’s sake, and not to highlight an issue or injustice existing in society.
I think every writer, deep down inside, chooses to become a writer and loves their profession because writing is one of the very few professions where one can have complete freedom, creative and otherwise, to do and write whatever they want however they want, and whenever they want. At least that is the reason why I choose to write.
The fact that I have the option and freedom to write down whatever I wish to write down, using all the creativity and imagination at my disposal, is something so liberating and empowering that I would not trade it for anything in the world. Not for the highest-paying corporate job. Not for the most lucrative 9-5 existence. Not for a truckload of free money. Not for anything!
That freedom is addictive. The freedom to put down on paper what is on my mind, no matter how unreal it may be or how silly it may seem. The freedom to write down my thoughts or dreams or literally anything else I wish to write down. That freedom is everything to a writer. That freedom is exactly what produced The Lord of the Rings series and the Game of Thrones series and the Harry Potter series. That freedom is what produced One Hundred Years of Solitude and The Alchemist and The Little Prince and Midnight’s Children.
Are all the above-mentioned works completely realistic? Are they all addressing important and serious issues prevalent in our society? Are they all condemning injustice or discrimination purely as their sole purpose? No, they are not. Not directly at least. Not as the sole purpose of the work.
So now, does that mean that these works are not worthy enough to be considered great works? Does it mean that the writers of these works are not serious or proper writers just because they failed to make a societal issue the primary subject matter of their work? Of course not!
No writer can dare say that in their right mind. Every writer likes to write about whatever they wish to write. Whatever their imagination and creativity allow them to write. They write because they have the creative freedom to do so. And it is that very creative freedom that gets them addicted to writing in the first place. It is that creative freedom that makes writers who they are, instilling in them that intense passion for writing. And if that very freedom is snatched away from them, then the act of writing will no longer be as interesting or as addictive to them as it once was. It would no longer remain their passion. Writing for them would become just another boring and mundane job in which they had no creative or personal freedom and in which they were forced to stay within the boundaries of reality.
And that is why I just cannot comprehend how a writer (who obviously cherishes that creative freedom as all writers do) can say with such conviction that some other writer is not truly a writer because they do not write on such issues. It is beyond my understanding how they can brush aside and ridicule another writer’s creative imagination and freedom by deeming their work as not important or meaningful enough.
By that logic, many great and prolific writers will never be considered proper, serious, or important writers. And that to me is unacceptable. It cannot be that way. We must fight against such rigid and restrictive thinking.
And this logic is not just limited to writing in particular. It can be applied to art in general.
Art cannot be pigeonholed. It cannot be labeled or categorized or organized. It cannot be governed by rules and laws. These things symbolize the very opposite of what art, in any of its forms, is meant to symbolize. Art represents freedom. It represents creativity. It represents creative freedom and imagination. It stands for diversity and variety and right and wrong. It stands for education as well as entertainment. It stands for everything and nothing all at once. Art is the only true representation of the variety of life and of individuals. Therefore, no one, not even the greatest of writers or painters or sculptors or musicians or actors has the right to decide if another is worthy enough to be regarded as one or not.
If it is the mandatory duty and responsibility of an artist to address a societal issue through their artwork in order to be considered a proper or serious artist, then, we must admit, neither Michelangelo nor Leonardo da Vinci or Pablo Picasso, or Henri Matisse or Vincent van Gogh deserves to be regarded as an artist. And neither the Statue of David nor the Mona Lisa or Les Demoiselles d’Avignon or La Danse or The Starry Night should be considered great artworks.
Hence, it is my opinion that the only true purpose of a writer is to write whatever they feel like writing, just like the only true purpose of any artist is to create any artwork they wish to create. No one can judge another for what they have written or created. No one can ridicule the other or deem them not proper or serious enough to be considered a writer or an artist. No one has the right to lay down these pathetic, restrictive rules and laws when it comes to art, or express their opinion on such subjective a matter as if it were the word of the universe, making it a universal law.
Writing, just like any other form of art, is subjective, and a writer, just like any other artist, has the complete right to exercise their imagination and creative freedom in any way they deem fit or proper, without being judged or condemned by their colleagues, no matter how great or influential those colleagues may be.
I hope that you have not misunderstood what I have written. I hope you have read and understood it in the right context. All I am trying to say is that writing is freedom personified. It is one of the freest professions one can practice. And by deciding and judging, based on a writer’s work, who deserves to be called a writer and who does not, that freedom is taken away from the writer. It is snatched away and torn into pieces and thrown into a fire. And the death of that freedom symbolizes the death of literature.