The Friendly Route

I spent part of the past weekend serving as a judge for a high school debate tournament in which my oldest son was a participant. While I am grateful for the opportunity to observe my son in his native habitat, I am not a big fan of judging anything, let alone debates. Argument can seem necessary to us. How else are we to share what we believe and nudge the world in the direction we would like it to travel? But in my own experience, I have never argued anyone into believing something different than what they came to me already believing, nor has anyone ever argued me out of something I feel to be true. I do, however, subscribe to the idea that when the student is ready the teacher will arrive. This I have found to be true over and over again. And with this in mind, understanding the argument model, that is, the flow of idea from postulation to conclusion, is a useful skill to master.

In some ways, all writers, even fiction writers, are constructing arguments when they write, insofar as we are laying down an idea we believe is worth sharing, even if that idea is that it is good not to be killed by a zombie. And in this way, all writers are teachers. Our job is to find the very best way possible to say what we want to say and then find the very best means possible of sharing it. And then our work, on that idea at least, is done.

Now we let the student find what we wished to share. It is not our job to convince a fan of literary fiction that she should love romance novels, nor to twist some conservative’s intellectual arm into embracing liberalism. Our job is to love what we love and share it. And somewhere out there in the reading world is someone looking for what we have written, and when they find what they have been looking for they will know it, and they will be grateful. If your work is going to change anyone, it will not do so by reversing a firmly held conviction, but by offering a friendly route toward an idea your reader has glimpsed but perhaps been afraid thus far to explore.

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