The Lesson We All Learned in Third Grade

by Stephan J Harper

We are going to take a quick, but necessary, detour. does not offer advice on the craft of writing. All the great writers throughout history, the ones who inspire your own efforts, have offered their insights. They all told you the same things. They told you that it took years to develop their craft and that they never stopped learning. Many have written, often in harrowing detail, how their own path to great writing first had to travel through an intimidating landscape: an openness where the writer stands naked and in submission before a scalpel that dissects, dismembers and examines – without mercy or benefit of anesthesia – the outpouring of the heart and soul. They told you this requires great courage and a commitment to your craft that few writers are ready – or willing – to make. But they said something else: they started out just like you. They knew there is greatness in each one of us and to depend on that truth with every sentence you hone, every page you agonize over.

However, these writers never faced the profoundly disturbing modern development every artist working today must conquer. The Internet offers wonderful opportunities for learning and connection and the advancement of knowledge for the entire human race. But the Internet has a dark side: mankind’s unleashed id spreading misunderstandings and falsehoods and calumny around the world in a millisecond – often stated in the vilest of language – and calling it opinion. When this trickles up we see the results: where anyone with a website can make a claim to knowledge and authority without possessing either. Where anyone can claim to be a qualified Art or Literary Critic without practicing the standards of excellence established over 400 years of scholarship whose origins can be traced as far back as Aristotle’s Poetics. Cultural anthropologists throughout academia are studying this phenomenon and the corrosive effect it is having on society,  as well as what it portends for the future of our civilization.

A pervasive darkness threatens. We must be on our guard. Art is an individual expression. The cynic despises your passion and your talent because he has no passion or talent of his own.

We all learned an important lesson in third grade. It wasn’t from a book or what the teacher said. It was a lesson we learned intuitively. As we grew older most of us simply forgot: the kid on the other side of the room calling you stupid for no good reason is simply not worth talking to. We knew intuitively it was nonsense. But as we grew older and we learned to value critical thinking in our walk through life, we tried to use reason and dialogue (and our innate good graces) to ask why someone was thoughtlessly trashing our work. We said “let’s talk about it” and we found that no matter how generous or solicitous we were, it was a total waste of time.

MultiTouch Fiction is an entirely new Art form. At this point in time no one is qualified to render an informed opinion on this Art. Apple itself is only recently aware that iBooks Author, originally created for textbooks and non-fiction, has ushered in a revolutionary genre of Literature. No one is an expert on how iBooks Author can be used to create MultiTouch Fiction. No one can say you need to use a certain feature in a certain way. These are artistic choices. There are no hard and fast rules. Hard and fast rules are the very opposite of creativity. iBooks Author is a sophisticated, feature-rich, multimedia-authoring platform that is so – how shall we put this? – ridiculously easy to use, that your creativity has free reign to explore an entirely new landscape in one of the most exciting developments in Literature.

The writer is an artist. Your goal is to create what Poe called, in another context, the “unity of effect” fundamental to all Art that elicits in the observer that experience when, in a single moment of truth, the beauty of Art presents itself. It could be the few lines of a sonnet or the tale of a Jazz Age bootlegger. It’s in that Stephen King story, too: for a week, you kept all the lights on at night when you discovered your neighbors’ dogs were meeting in secret to plot their revenge. Beauty is found in the most unlikeliest of places. Anyone who tells you otherwise, just remember it’s the kid in third grade all over again; and we’ve just been through all that.

You have work to do.

Next: Rules, Books & Why