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This post is not about technical writing per se but then I’m not interested only and only in technical writing either. Although I love technical communication with a passion, I do enjoy ANY kind of good writing, including, of course, creative writing.
Three facts about three top-notch authors got me thinking the other day about the differences between technical writing and creative writing. Let me explain…
First, the facts…
1) If you have a look at David Foster Wallace‘s “Infinite Jest” you immediately realize that you’re face to face with a true GENIUS. Another Faulkner, perhaps… A magnetic force bending the rules of language, inventing things as it goes along in order to reveal layers of human psyche that perhaps you weren’t even aware that existed.
2) Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish novelist who won the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature last year… He writes with such attention to details that his prose takes you away like a mighty river to a different time and place while exploring rather universal themes all the same…
3) John Updike needs no introduction. The giant of American literature left behind a proven body of works that will live probably as long as our planet exists.
Now here comes the second set of facts:
1) David Foster Wallace committed suicide on September 12, 2008 at age 46. A healthy adult male with no known illnesses.
2) Orhan Pamuk, in a recent collection of essays, admitted that he writes 10 hours a day, every day, for as long as he can remember.
3) John Updike, during a radio interview conducted while he was still alive, admitted that he never held a regular job in his life and he spent a lifetime writing stories, novels, poems, and book reviews in his room.
And here comes the questions:
1) What good is superior creative writing, the kind whipped up by Wallace with such spellbinding ferocity, if its author commits suicide at age 46?
2) What can we learn from the works of authors who basically did not leave their rooms since they were teenagers and who never did participate in the kind of every day office or factory work that defines the lives of a great majority of adults in any country around the world? Isn’t it a bit like learning that Van Gogh was actually color blind?
The real question here is this: do we have the right to judge the works of a creative author by the life that he or she has led?
Perhaps this is an unfair question since the answer is a clear “no” when it is asked about technical writing.
A technical document is either good and useful or bad and not useful, regardless of the private life of its author. But then a technical document is not about “life” in general… it’s about systems and gadgets.
A novel, on the other hand, is about life, and it’s about “us.” So that’s why personal background of the author and biography do become a factor in my evaluations.
What do you think, dear reader? Am I being unfair to the greatest authors of the world? If that’s how it comes across, I apologize in advance since that’s not my intention at all. But I think these are the kind of fair questions we all have to ask in order to both place these great works of art in a more realistic framework. That’s also a way to appreciate once again the special position held by technical writing in a wide spectrum of writing and communication products.