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COMPLEX AND MYSTERIOUS HOGWASH

By H. P. Oliver

I seldom spend much time thinking about what we do as writers because I learned long ago that the answers to such questions are found by writing, not thinking about writing. Over the years, however, I have occasionally wondered why some writers waste so much time trying to quantify what we do. Then one bright day the answer to that question occurred to me.

Actually, it's pretty simple. Some writers blather on and on about abstract techniques and obscure philosophies because we're in an "ego" business. We require vast quantities of self-assurance to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism. For some, feeling they are masters of a complex and mysterious craft feeds egos and builds a false sense of assurance--false because the feeling is based on hogwash rather than on pride in their actual accomplishments.

Some professions--engineering, law and medicine, for example--come with this function built in. Being an engineer, lawyer or doctor requires many years of study, so most folks see these professions as being on a higher plane. On the other hand, the same folks think anyone with a zillion-megapixel camera, digital recording software, or a copy of MS Word can be a photographer, musician or writer. No wonder so many craftspeople suffer from poor esteem!

A pretty good example of the need for people to feed their egos by glorifying what they do is found in the teaching profession. In response to centuries of being underpaid for the valuable contributions they make to society, teachers began glorifying their profession back in the 1970s by writing great voluminous tomes about the philosophies and complex approaches required for teaching Johnny to read. They stopped being teachers and became "educators." Anybody can teach, but an educator . . . now that's special.

Well, friends, my old man taught high school for about five decades and in that time he helped shape thousands of young lives, yet never once did I ever hear him refer to himself as an educator. He was a teacher and his job was teaching his students the useful skills they needed to earn a good living and prosper in the world they faced after graduation. His self-assurance came from his focus on the good he was doing, and that was enough for Dad.

I believe we can all learn something from my pop's particular application of the K.I.S.S. principle. Just as he is fondly remembered today by the many students whose lives he influenced so positively, we writers will be remembered (or not) for what we wrote, not how dark and mysterious we made our craft appear to be.

Yeah, yeah, that's all fine and good, H. P., but what's wrong with a little harmless glorification of our craft? It isn't harmless; that's what's wrong with it. All the pontificating some do about how deep and complicated our craft is wastes time, consumes energy, and worst of all, distracts them from their purpose, especially if they start believing the line of hogwash they're trying to hand everyone else.