What Is My Best Writing?
In a lecture titled The Deteriorative Power of Conventional Art Over Nations, John Ruskin had this to say about art:
Wherever art is practised for its own sake, and the delight of the workman is in what he does and produces, instead of in what he interprets or exhibits,—there art has an influence of the most fatal kind on brain and heart, and it issues, if long so pursued, in the destruction both of intellectual power and moral principle; whereas art devoted humbly and self-forgetfully to the clear statement and record of the facts of the universe, is always helpful and beneficent to mankind, full of comfort, strength, and salvation.
I admit I’m not one who reads John Ruskin in my free time (though I have read a few of his books). This section was quoted in Emerson: The Mind on Fire by Robert D. Richardson Jr., a book I finished last month and loved. Around that time, I had been thinking about the role of writing in my life. To be more specific, I had been thinking about this tension I had between writing in my journal versus writing the novels and essays I considered to be more serious, and thus more worthy of my time. I hesitate to call it easy, but I can easily make myself sit at my desk with my pen and notebook and spend the next hour writing pages and pages about anything—about what’s in my head, what I’m feeling, what’s going on in my life. But once I intend to write my novel or work on an essay, I struggle. I struggle to make myself go to my desk, to open my notebook or my laptop, and simply write.
Why is this? Is it that one is something I do just to do—as John Ruskin says, practised for its own sake—and the other is destined for a bigger purpose, which is to be read by other people, to be judged by people like John Ruskin?
What is my best writing?, I remember asking myself. I used to think that writing something personal, something from the heart, will be considered “good.” That I might consider that my “best” writing. But then I started to question things. Personal doesn’t mean good, but something good can be personal, I wrote in my notes. Something honest doesn’t mean good, but something good can be honest. And on and on my thoughts went. Instead of getting to the bottom of it, I think I binged another TV show and went to bed.
And now I’m here.
I don’t know the answers, but what I do know is that I disagree with John Ruskin. Art practiced for its own sake is “helpful and beneficent to mankind,” even, or especially, if it’s just me. Journaling is something that has benefited me in ways I can’t measure, except in this one way: it has kept me alive. That is not hyperbole. I would not be here if it wasn’t for my writing. I do agree that “art devoted humbly and self-forgetfully to the clear statement and record of the facts of the universe” is important, but it’s not everything.
I’m going to end it here because I don’t know where to take this. That’s okay because this is just an attempt, something I can come back to later and revisit. After all, I’m not perfect.