“If you can tell stories, create characters, devise incidents, and have sincerity and passion, it doesn’t matter a damn how you write.” –W. Somerset Maugham
For someone I’ve never even read, W. Somerset Maugham shows up on my quote pages quite a lot. When I go hunting for quotes or when they just pop up on my radar, there’s a good change his words are among some of my favorites, and I think it’s because he has a rather cavalier attitude toward the structures of writing and, to him, the writing is the thing. It’s not about the structure or the tone or the construction with him so much as it is about the passion and the love and the ultimate desire to just tell a good goddamn story. There’s a man after my own heart.
Don’t get me wrong. I feel there’s definitely a place for construction and style; a knowledge of language and effective use of subtly and symbolism can take a good story and make it incredible. But style with no substance is, to me, meaningless. Academia may go nuts for a story that can subvert the forms and turn a phrase, but if there’s no story, if the characters are dull, if the incidents don’t grab you, and there’s no sincerity or passion in the words, then what is it? Droll art for art’s sake, and, to me, that should not be what writing is about. Writing is, ultimately, about telling stories. Sharing stories. Creating stories.
Quotes like these always seem to surface whenever I’m starting to feel like I’m not “good enough” or that my literary voice isn’t “strong enough.” It always helps me put a spin on my work that makes me realize that it doesn’t really matter if someone doesn’t find my work to be stylistically good, because what I really want is for someone to find the story good. If I can do it in a way that makes them truly feel the richness of the language being used, to help compound their love for the characters and the worlds I have built, even better, but the fact of the matter is that, as long as I can tell a story, create characters, devise incidents and (most importantly, if you ask me) have passion and sincerity, it really, really doesn’t matter one bit what anyone else thinks.