Some writers, especially when we’re just starting to find our voices, believe that the best art is unfiltered expression, “pure” creativity. There’s something stereotypically American to me about that idea, how bootstrappy it is, ruggedly individual. I’m fascinated by the assumption that a mystical, uncompromising Pure Art could exist at all, but more than that, that it would be meaningful to anyone other than its creator. This must sometimes happen! But I see writing more like a bridge that we build to reach other people across a chasm of our different beliefs and experiences. The most interesting and affecting writing is in some way generous.
One of the most mind-blowing things I have learned about writing came from a poetry workshop with Shira Erlichman: She asked us whether our work was expressing or communicating. This changed the way I write, and as an editor, it gave me language for what makes me believe in a manuscript. Communicating invites a reader in—not to spell everything out, but to establish a connection, one that addresses, in some way, “So what?”
If you can identify elements of your writing as generous, my hunch is that your writing is communicating, not just expressing. To me, writing feels generous when something about it functions as a gift, whether that gift is “You are not the only one who feels this thing no one talks about” or “I am playing with form to help you better understand an experience that isn’t well served by other narrative structures.”
I find there’s often something generous about humor; it can foster an environment where readers are more open to being challenged, and it can lift us while we sit with pain and grief. Subverting a reader’s expectations (whether through experimental forms or with humor) feels generous to me, because to be able to surprise someone, you must first consider their expectations. This consideration communicates! We see you waving to us on your side of the bridge, and we wave back as we cross to meet you.
—Sarah Lyn Rogers, associate editor, Soft Skull Press