Writing is an act of faith in the self. Because writing is, as Hugo notes, “an act of self-acceptance” (71) and faith—in this understanding—is an acknowledgement and acceptance of the self, writing is an act of faith.
But what does this really mean? An act of writing—of putting words onto paper or into electronic form—necessarily conducts an individual’s unique perspective into the world at large. It is this unique perspective that the writer accepts as valuable, for if he did not—if I do not accept my unique perspective, the accumulation of my lived experience—then how could the writer put it into physical form? Jane Hirshfield asserts that “the fear of self-revelation” is “one major obstacle to originality” (38). That exact fear becomes undone by the act of self-acceptance, and therefore by the act of writing. The faith also develops through the confidence and trust of oneself to accept any self-revelation which the act of writing begets. Thus we display both ego and humility in the action of writing. Ego in the idea that the writer’s unique perspective is valuable; humility in the idea that the act of writing leads to self-revelation and then self-acceptance. Hirshfield’s concept of the fear of self-revelation is one manifestation of the dangers inherent in this relationship; another might be the out of control ego; a further third might exist in Nietzsche’s abyss, in which the writer might come to not value his unique perspective. I would argue that this faith we are discussing is a way to counteract these dangers. Writing creates self-revelation, and to continue writing one must practice self-acceptance, which creates the trust and confidence in ourselves, and then faith develops.
Writing is an act of faith in the material. If we accept that faith in oneself, then the material we writers produce must also require a faith. Whether stone, papyrus, paper, or electrons, the act of writing is an investment of time to produce a material. In my particular case, the production of poems. Can we have faith that every poem produced is valuable? Maybe not in the sense that every poem written down will be considered publishable, and certainly not in the sense that every poem—or indeed, every poet—will be remembered in a hundred years. But through faith in the self, the writer may accept those difficulties and have confidence that some of the material will be valuable. Furthermore, the writer can have faith that every investment of time—whether he considers the end result valuable or not—is a learning opportunity. This is another sort of faith in the material: that despite the end result, he has learned something. Each poem that does not work results in stronger poems in the future. If “the writer’s whole being is the instrument for perception” (Hirshfield, 38), and the writer has the faith in the self discussed above, and an act of writing is a result of that perception filtered through the writer’s unique perspective, then it follows that the writer’s investment of time produces material to have faith in as well. Whether the writer learns something from the work, or considers the work successful, or others want to publish it, or school children study it in twenty or a hundred years, this faith dictates that the work holds value in some way. If the writer cannot see some sort of value in the material, his confidence in himself also dwindles.
Writing is an act of faith in humanity. As with the assertion about faith in the material, this faith in humanity also exists in several permutations. A writer who has faith in himself and faith in his material, must also expect to find an audience who reads his work. This audience consists of other humans—people who will applaud or pan the work. Whether the audience consists of family members, his close community, his nation, or the world at large, the writer must have faith in those people for several reasons. The writer must have confidence that the work will be understood, connected to, and valued by the audience. In one way, an audience adds to the perceived value of the work, which instills confidence and trust for the writer in his own abilities. More than this though, the writer must have faith that his self-acceptance will be accepted by his audience. Self-revelation and self-acceptance often result in baring significant personal honesty and a tackling of controversial issues. Revealing these to an audience of any size requires a faith in the humanity and compassion of that audience. In a larger sense, a writer must further have faith in humanity’s continuing society and progress. A stable society allows for a stable audience. A society which continues to progress allows greater room for new work, while a society which stagnates values art as a part of history, leaving less room for new work.
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