Some of you may enjoy Twilight, 50 Shades of Grey, and Harry Potter, but they aren’t better than anything Hemingway, Camus, or Proust has written. It’s not my intention to start something controversial here. I just want to stress the importance of objectivity in writing and education, and this seemed like a good place to start.
Why? Because this is the kind of thing I’ve read on writer Facebook groups, and they’re posted frequently enough to go unnoticeable. I’m sure the majority of readers on this blog have seen them too. And I’m not talking about not having preferences or never having an opinion, nor keeping your personal taste private or pretentiously pretending to prefer ‘higher’ art. That’s something else. It’s easy to retain your personal taste and be objective.
My Personal Taste + My Objectivity
Tolstoy is a great writer, but I also can’t enjoy his novels. It’s not because they’re translated from Russian or because they were written in the 19th century. My love of Dostoevsky’s work proves otherwise. It’s just because I don’t get on with Tolstoy’s style. But that doesn’t mean I dismiss his work. It’s in our interest as writers to be objective. We will always have our tastes and preferences, but we must also acknowledge the objective truth.
I think the following example will make the most sense. One of my favourite bands is Suede, – a band upon whose music my next novel will feature – but I don’t feel the need to proclaim them as a better band than The Beatles. Doing so would fail to acknowledge a massive chunk of musical history and the fact that most modern music is dependent on The Beatles. Most importantly, by believing that Suede is better than any other band, I would never learn the small, crucial nuances of why I love them and why some others might love them. A childish, sweeping statement disengages all critical thinking and leaves you nowhere.
Objectivity and Writing
Everything I’ve said applies to our approach to writing advice, too. There will always be occasions our personal preference overrides a solid piece of writing advice – let’s say ‘Use the Active Voice’ – but it should be implemented at a particular time, for a very particular reason. For an explanation of what I mean precisely, click the link above. It is mad to repeatedly state that using the active voice in writing is a nonsense rule as part of a wider scheme by the elite to make everyone write the same way.
This is the tone of the comments I’m reading, and it’s just incorrect. Writing advice isn’t elitist. It doesn’t want everyone to write in the same way (the concept of that is absurd in practice because a writer’s style is made up of a hell of a lot more than a simple guideline that helps you write well). Writing advice is there to improve your writing, and every good piece of writing advice includes the clause to apply your discretion and break any rules when it improves the writing to do so. Writing advice helps you become a better thinker, encouraging you to make informed decisions every time you write each sentence.
What’s the point of this post? It wasn’t to rant, I promise. I have always valued objectivity in writing and education. Every time I become more objective, I feel myself learn better. I don’t lose my personal preferences in favor of what I’m told to like. Instead, my understanding of why I enjoy certain things is clearer. And I don’t feel the need to blindly claim that the things I like are better than anything else. These are essential things for a writer to know.
With an open mind, an objective outlook on works of art, and an understanding of why you like the things you like, you will become a better writer. Your truth is not the truth. The fact that it’s yours and not shared universally makes it even more special. Be objective. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.