11/12/09

How Do We Become Miltons and Shakespeares?

Here's my question. We've probably all heard the quote from Orson F. Whitney:

"We shall yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own. God's ammunition is not exhausted. His highest spirits are held in reserve for the latter times. In God's name and by His help we will build up a literature whose tops will touch the heaven, though its foundation may now be low on the earth."

In your opinion, how can we as LDS authors reach such lofty aspirations?

This always sparks so much controversy. So, dear readers, have at it. There is room for differing opinions here, just be nice about it. No nasty personal comments.

But before you post your perspective, here's mine. First off, Milton and Shakespeare are who they are due to time. When they were writing, some of their contemporaries thought them talentless hacks.

And I can see where they were coming from. I love some Shakespeare, and I hate some Shakespeare. What makes Milton and Shakespeare the 'ideal on the pedestal' is their survival over time. Who's to say that something recently published by an LDS author isn't going to also pass the test of time and be held up in a few hundred years as the ideal for the new writing generation to strive toward? We don't know. We can't know. All we know for sure is what we personally like and don't like, right now, in this moment when we live.

Another thought I have is that we don't have to "make" Whitney's prediction come true. As writers, we don't need to worry about the fact that we're not writing as well as Shakespeare or Milton. We don't need to despair over the state of LDS literature or denigrate writers' attempts at capturing their view of the world in words. We don't need to fret over not making the best-seller list.

We simply do the best we can. We write the best story we can, in a prayerful manner, and God will bless our efforts and create the masterpieces He wants the world to read for our time, place and circle of influence.

A few practical steps to this are (and these apply to all writers, not just LDS writers):
  • Write a lot. The more we write, the better we get.

  • Write well. Constantly work to better our skills and talents.

  • Write honestly. Put honest thoughts, feelings, emotions on the page. Pray for the spirit to quicken our minds and guide our pen.

  • Write about great things. The struggle between good and evil; between the spiritual man and the natural man; the heroic journey of earth life.
That's what I think. What about you?

8 comments:

Karen Jones Gowen said...

I think we need reminders like this--that we aren't writing for the bestseller lists or to be popular. We need to write from our hearts and to do it using every skill we have, to rewrite and revise until we are sick of it, and to constantly improve and polish our use of the language.

mormonhermitmom said...

I come upon stuff that is as old as Shakespeare that I think is brilliant - but view people now have ever heard of them outside academia. I think they are equal to or better than Shakespeare. Who is to say that we don't already have Miltons and Shakespeare? They just may not have ever published for whatever reason.

mormonhermitmom said...

I meant "few people". Sheesh. Early morning plus no contacts equals foot in the mouth (or keyboard?) :)

L.T. Elliot said...

I think we already have.
You're right--time is everything. What may be lauded later is not necessarily loved today. In my mind, that doesn't negate worth. Good writing is good writing--be it a YA chick lit or a spiritual journey. The difference, I think, is made in the effect on the reader. If we are changed, if we are touched, isn't that the mark of true greatness?

Rebecca Talley said...

Thank you for this post. I needed it today.

Angie said...

"We simply do the best we can. We write the best story we can, in a prayerful manner, and God will bless our efforts and create the masterpieces He wants the world to read for our time, place and circle of influence."

Hear, hear! I mean, who wants to sit down and write thinking, "Is this as good as Shakespeare?" Blech. Not me. I have, though, felt depressed at times because I'm not creating great works of literature. (Oh, yeah? Who says I'm not? Who knows, right? Bizet took sick and died believing that Carmen was a total flop. Van Goh never sold a painting in his lifetime.)

Instead, we should do just what you said, write a lot, write well, write honestly, write about great things. Brilliant. If we don't write from the heart then what's the point? I decided a long time ago that I wanted my stories to entertain and uplift people. Shakespeare is great not only because of his beautiful language and timeless insights into human nature, but also because he is fun and entertaining. (Aside--I've always thought that Helaman Chapters 7-10 have a plot that Shakespeare would love.)

Well, I'm sure you didn't want me to leave an essay in the comments, but it is nice to get these thoughts down. Thanks for your insight.

Carolyn V. said...

I love that about Shakespeare, that they thought he was a hack. They thought that about Jane Austin too (I just read that on somebody's blog this morning) =). Can you believe that? I completely agree with your list.

Lyle Mortimer said...

What makes a great writer? Skill (it takes time to develop) Work ethic (keep writing no matter what) Empathy (developed through experience, sometimes over a lifetime) Humanity (the ability to reveal our innermost workings discovering we're not so different from everyone else.)