Monday, April 7, 2008

What Do You Stand For?

This being an election year, there’s a great deal of talk about platforms. We all want to know what the candidates stand for. Platforms, however, need not be limited to Presidential candidates or politics.

Have you ever thought about what you stand for as a writer? As a human being? I’m not talking issues or ideology. I’m talking about the intersection of passion and talent, the place where your particular point of view gives your work energy and direction. As artists, we can’t be all things to all people and expect to have any kind of impact. We must carefully choose what is most important to us and make that the focus of our work.

For example, I love to cook. Several years ago I decided that even though I wasn’t cut out for a career in the culinary arts, I would make it part of my personal platform to feed people. That means I cook for friends, family, and any neighbors who might be going through a rough patch. I’ve cooked for a homeless shelter and donate regularly to the local food bank. Basically, if someone needs help and it happens to be food-related, I’m on it. It’s not just because I enjoy feeding others—there have been plenty of occasions when finding the time to cook for others has been a sacrifice—but because it’s something that’s important to me.

As a writer, I’m still discovering my platform. One thing that is important to me, however, is the concept of compassion. I once saw an interview with Meryl Streep on Inside the Actors Studio where she said that acting gives voice to people who may otherwise go unheard. The same is true, of course, for fiction. We live in age where people are so hyper-critical of each other, that to give readers an opportunity to step into the shoes of someone different from themselves and view them with a tender eye seems to me like a worthy pursuit. To that end, I keep compassion in mind when I develop my characters, trying to make them at least sympathetic even when they are unlovable.

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