One of the more difficult books to understand, and yet one of the most enlightening on the theater is David Mamet’s small volume, Three Uses of the Knife, on the nature and purpose of drama.
Whether we write nonfiction or fiction, writing involves drama. What is drama exactly? The word comes from the Greek, dran, to act. To act is to do something, which means that the writing has to do something as well. It could be to merely give information, but writing for readers in general, as opposed to writing exclusively for editors or oneself, requires more. It requires a story, and all stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It is a pattern, and humans love patterns. When we see and comprehend the patterns we experience, we feel at peace. Our lives have meaning, and we gain understanding.
All writers must walk a fine line between what the writer wants to write, and what he or she thinks the reader will accept. Write only for the audience, and writers lose their passion. Ignore the reader entirely, and the writing is likely to be too eccentric and remote. How does one navigate between these two extremes?
Mamet has some advice worth thinking about.
“The purpose of art is to delight us: certain men and women (no smarter than you or I) whose art can delight us have been given dispensation from going out and fetching water and carrying wood. It’s no more elaborate than that.”
“So there you sit in the coffee shop, talking to yourself. ‘Oh my God, is this the real thing? Has someone thought of this before? Am I insane? Is anybody going to like it?’ That’s part of the process too. And it’s probably a sign that you’re on the right track. I used to say that a good writer throws out the stuff that everybody else keeps. But an even better test occurs to me: a good writer keeps the stuff that everybody else throws out.”
If writing seems tough, it’s because it is, but if the reader is delighted, then all is well. The writer did his or her job.