Group Writing: The Wisdom of Authors

 

It finally happened to me last week. There was a spectacular wreck in my neighborhood two doors down from my house – the type that gets everyone outside to watch. (They are truly rare on my street, which is a half-mile long dead end, and this happened in the middle. How the driver got up to the required speed in an eighth of a mile is something everyone still wonders.)

You know some people in your neighborhood, and you do not know others. Introductions were being made among those who did not know each other. One guy who lived across the street and four doors down moved in about three months ago. We shook hands and exchanged names.

“Are you the author?” he asked. “My wife has some of your books. I really liked them.”

I admitted I was that Mark Lardas.

Authors are anonymous. I published my first book seventeen years ago, and this is the first time a stranger has recognized my name because they had read one of my books – as opposed to someone coming to a book signing or talk because they wanted to meet me. My sons told me that on several occasions they wee asked if there dad was “Mark Lardas,” the guy that wrote one of the books I have had published by Osprey. I kind of believed it because the one asking was typically someone in Boy Scouts or Civil Air Patrol. Teenaged males are the types who read the books I write. (Well, some of them do, when they are not chasing girls.) I had never met these guys so I could never be sure whether my sons were pulling my leg or trying to offer me some reassurance.

What got me was something my neighbor said after I admitted I was an author. He said it was nice to have someone in the neighborhood who is smart enough and wise enough to write. That was something I have encountered over the years: the belief that authors are somehow smarter and wiser than other mortals because they are published.

Want to add 10 points to your perceived IQ? Get a book published. It is a joke I have often told. It is funny because it is true. People really do think you are smarter than average and wiser than most once you have a book published.

But it has to be a book. I was a writer for 10 years before my first book appeared. I had written hundreds of magazine articles. No one was impressed with me. Once that first book came out, I was the go-to guy for advice among folks who knew I had published a book.

Why is that?

I think part of the answer is there is a lot of wisdom locked up in books. Especially older books that are still generally read: Don Quixote, Vanity Fair, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Brave New World. Folks like Cervantes, Thackeray, Twain, and Huxley have a claim on wisdom.

Yet there are a lot of foolish and silly books written: Mein Kampf, The Klansman (the inspiration for the movie The Birth of a Nation), Chariots of the Gods, The Harrad Experiment. And think of all the slapdash political biographies and celebrity books that get published every year. (Is there anything sillier than Princess Diana worship books? Except maybe anything written about the Kardashians? I am sure Diana was a nice person and all, but what did she do other than marry the wrong man? And let’s not get into the Kardashians.)

I think what happens are the foolish books get quickly forgotten, (except when there is a historical reason to remember them, as was the case with Mein Kampf). The wise books are remembered. When people think of books in their mental inventories, the wise books vastly outnumber the foolish ones. As a result, book authors get the benefit of that memory. Books contain wisdom. That means authors, who produce them, are wise.

If people wish to think me particularly wise, I am good with that. Most authors are willing to feed that belief. Who doesn’t want to be told they are wise?

But what wisdom I do have has nothing to do with my writing. It is more related to the accumulation of life experiences over 62 years on earth. As the saying goes, “Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.” I have a lot of “experience.”

Authors are people, not fonts of wisdom. Anyone who makes their living by writing is a craftsman, every bit as much as a carpenter, plumber, or machinist. In my experience, most good craftsmen have wisdom. Especially in their field, but quite often in general life. They, too have acquired experience through their work.

I am not saying ignore what writers have to say. What I am saying is weigh they wisdom by what they say – and maybe weigh the advice of others based on their experience, rather than their job title.

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  1. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Splendid post!

    Seawriter:
    I think part of the answer is there is a lot of wisdom locked up in books. Especially older books that are still generally read: Don Quixote, Vanity Fair, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Brave New World. Folks like Cervantes, Thackeray, Twain, and Huxley have a claim on wisdom.

    Shall we all list a few more of our favorites?  Augustine’s Confessions, the Analects of Confucius, and The Lord of the Rings!

    I think what happens are the foolish books get quickly forgotten, (except when there is a historical reason to remember them, as was the case with Mein Kampf). The wise books are remembered.

    Right on.  I think there’s an exception, though: a few foolish books whose foolishness is the perennial kind.  Perhaps Karl Marx is in this category.  (I’m teaching a reading from him myself this very day, actually, mostly for historical reasons!)

    • #1
  2. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Seawriter:

    If people wish to think me particularly wise, I am good with that. Most authors are willing to feed that belief. Who doesn’t want to be told they are wise?

    Yeah, I want that.  It’s mostly a foolish desire, though if it could be reconciled with some passage in Proverbs maybe it’s partly ok.

    A more rational thought comes to my mind: If you think I’m wise, don’t tell me!  That’s exactly the sort of information that could ruin it!

    But what wisdom I do have has nothing to do with my writing. It is more related to the accumulation of live experiences over 62 years on earth. As the saying goes “Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.” I have a lot of “experience.”

    Fair enough, but some wisdom also comes from old books.  In science we do not begin again doing the old experiments.  Sometimes we repeat them just to check or to learn the skills, but we mainly learn from the experiments of others.

    Good empiricism means learning from the experiences of others.  Solomon, Confucius’ followers, and Augustine left us the resulting books.  Some wisdom can come from them.  As Confucius said, “I am not one who was born in the possession of knowledge; I am one who is fond of antiquity, and earnest in seeking it there.”  We can learn from our own experience, and maybe we even get most of our wisdom from it.  But some of our wisdom comes from old books!

    Authors are people, not fonts of wisdom. Anyone who makes their living by writing is a craftsman, every bit as much as a carpenter, plumber, or machinist. In my experience most good craftsmen have wisdom. Especially in their field, but quite often in general life. They, too have acquired experience through their work.

    I am not saying ignore what writers have to say. What I am saying is weigh they wisdom by what they say – and maybe weigh the advice of others based on their experience, rather than their job title.

    Allow me to paraphrase:

    College professors are people, not fonts of wisdom. Anyone who makes their living by teaching is a craftsman, every bit as much as a carpenter, plumber, or machinist. In my experience most good craftsmen have wisdom. Especially in their field, but quite often in general life. They, too have acquired experience through their work.

    I am not saying ignore what teachers have to say. What I am saying is weigh they wisdom by what they say – and maybe weigh the advice of others based on their experience, rather than their job title.

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  3. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    There is tremendous respect for authors within the good publishing houses. It is well earned. Writing a book is an achievement.

     

    • #3
  4. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Seawriter: Authors are people, not fonts of wisdom.

    Just don’t tell my wife that.


    This conversation is part of our Group Writing Series under April’s theme of The Course of Wisdom. We still have a few openings, if you’re fast. You can share your experience of wisdom: true, false, or perceived. Just head on over to our sign-up sheet and claim a date.

    • #4
  5. CarolJoy Coolidge
    CarolJoy
    @CarolJoy

    MarciN (View Comment):

    There is tremendous respect for authors within the good publishing houses. It is well earned. Writing a book is an achievement.

    There is tremendous respect for authors within the good publishing houses. It is well earned. Writing a book is an achievement.

    Yes and  no. I mean, a person would think that there was tremendous respect.

    But Stephen King told the sorry tale of being taken by his agent to visit the editorial offices of whatever publishing house used to publish him.

    At the point in time this happened, King was responsible for earning 17 cents out of every dollar that the firm made. He and the agent ran into several VP’s while strolling around the hallways. None of them had heard of Stephen King.

    When self publishing became a possibility, King went that route. Why settle for six percent  royalties when you can get closer to 65% ? (Especially if the money you lost was going off to people who don’t even know their own industry very well.)

    • #5
  6. Fredösphere Inactive
    Fredösphere
    @Fredosphere

    Seawriter: Want to add 10 points to your perceived IQ? Get a book published.

    Wait — only 10? ;-)

    • #6
  7. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Fredösphere (View Comment):

    Seawriter: Want to add 10 points to your perceived IQ? Get a book published.

    Wait — only 10? ;-)

    15 is one standard deviation.

    • #7
  8. Stubbs Member
    Stubbs
    @Stubbs

    Seawriter: Authors are people, not fonts of wisdom. Anyone who makes their living by writing is a craftsman, every bit as much as a carpenter, plumber, or machinist. In my experience, most good craftsmen have wisdom. Especially in their field, but quite often in general life. They, too have acquired experience through their work.

    As one who works in and around craftsmen – tradesmen in particular, I wholeheartedly agree with your supposition that most good craftsmen have wisdom.  However, in my experience these craftsmen are rarely good teachers.  There is a wisdom that naturally comes with mastery of a craft; but in most tradesmen, that wisdom is learned by doing, and often locked up – unable to be shared, expressed, or even understood by its host.  Writers are communicators, and may have the words to express some manner of wisdom in the course of their craft – be it intentional or not.  Thanks for the great post.

    • #8
  9. Postmodern Hoplite Coolidge
    Postmodern Hoplite
    @PostmodernHoplite

    [deleted]

    • #9
  10. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Postmodern Hoplite (View Comment):

    [deleted]

    Was it something I said?
     

    • #10
  11. Postmodern Hoplite Coolidge
    Postmodern Hoplite
    @PostmodernHoplite

    Seawriter (View Comment):
    Was it something I said?

    Nope! It was just me cutting-and-pasting to the wrong OP. (Insert “face-palm” here!)

    • #11
  12. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Seawriter:

    “Are you the author?” he asked. “My wife has some of your books. I really liked them.”

    I admitted I was that Mark Lardas.

    Authors are anonymous. I published my first book seventeen years ago, and this is the first time a stranger has recognized my name because they had read one of my books – as opposed to someone coming to a book signing or talk because they wanted to meet me.

    That. Is. Awesome.

    • #12

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