The Job of the Modern Writer

Is there a difference between modern and pre-modern writers in ideology and responsibility? In other words, has the writer’s role changed over time, evolved into a new, modernized version?

The Writers’ Responsibility

Every writer has various aspirations, and thus each one brings to a range of mental (and emotional) responses to the audience. Without going into personal reasons for why writers write—there are individual reasons that overlap in many ways—perhaps one generalization can be made:

Writers see the world with different eyes, and they’re portraying their unique perspective to everyone else.

writing, modern writing, write, magic

Photo by Nana B Agyei

Writers have an enormous power to affect others, and this needs to be used wisely, and that’s why writers always had a vast responsibility towards their community. This hasn’t changed—in fact, nothing in the writer’s role has changed —only time has passed.

This means more writers, more writing, and the unavoidable treatment of different kinds of topics, raising important questions that lead to progress.

Once in a while, it’s worth taking a look into the responsibilities we carry, and re-examining the present path, ultimately aligning it in a new direction. This is my personal favorite selection of the writers’ roles in society:

1. To provoke

To provoke not for the sake of provoking and being different; rather in the sense of raising questions to present circumstances. Asking questions is the foundation that leads to any kind of progress. Writers explore what we’re doing, where we’re going, what if’s, why’s, new questions and old questions, and build on what has been found.

Questions are the starting point on the drive forward. The answers will follow.

2. To show

Writers show all those particular details seen by their individual lens. Think of all those things that seem to have been under your nose, yet you failed to recognize until you read them in a book.

Writers also represent an appearance in a completely fresh light with the power of language. Writing is art after all. The artistic aspect should never be omitted.

3. To give perspective

One may have thought that everything has already been said. Writers prove otherwise. They go beyond past achievements, praise them, use them, and go further.

There are never enough topics, never enough truths that need to be conveyed, never enough angles to any problem, never enough answers to a question, never enough questions to start with, never enough combinations of the same words, never enough opinions, never enough reminders of the bigger picture, never enough writing.

Attempting to avoid the trap of romanticizing the writer’s calling, the above is a good token that gives more purpose to what you do. If you ever get low on writer’s energy, remind yourself of these things, of this perspective. Your perspective is mirrored to others. It always matters.

What is your favorite writer’s role: what do you aspire towards?


Choose a short piece of your recent writing (no more than three or four paragraphs) and post it in the comments section. Then try to explain what the perspective you offer is, and what questions you raise. What is it that you’re showing; in short, the motifs of the story.

Be kind and comment on your fellow practitioners. Let’s reveal hidden layers of the stories from individual interpretations.

About Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).

  • mariannehvest

    Here’s the beginning of an old story that I was working on a few years ago and that I just looked at again.

    It is said that Doughty’s wood is dangerous, full of bogs, snakes and bears; yet Catriona Leith was spotted there by two hunters in late November. She was collecting fanned clubmoss, a prostrate evergreen that runs over the ground near the creek, weaving its rubbery roots though the dark decomposing layer beneath the leaves. Decay feeds the delicate feathery vine which is so useful in holiday decorations.

    Mercer’s Market sits on a curving road in the mountains in Southwestern Virginia. At Mercer’s, trucks with rifle racks appear in the parking lot, rolling slowly through the opaque morning mist. Almost blind, even with fog lights, the trucks nose out vacant spaces and edge into the first vacancy they find. Before the damp gauze dissolves, the men are only visible to each other when inside the market. If they are walking in the parking lot, sometimes a hunter passes through a curtain of cloud and enters a pocket that contains another hunter, spooking them both.

    At Mercer’s, the hunters drink strong coffee and discuss the sightings of the previous day. They speak on occasion of Catriona. They agree that even at a good distance she is recognizable, and they wonder why. None can name a detail of her dress or her person that defines Catriona at first glimpse, but a second look is never required to recognize her as she moves thorough the woods or across the mountain meadow. All who have sighted her report that she saw them first, and was turning away when they noticed her. She never calls or waves to a hunter, but turns back to gathering what she has come for.

    The hunters wives congregate at Marty’s Breakfast to Dinner Diner, where the tables are red formica, and the flowers, plastic lilacs, lacquered with grease and dust. Seven women play bingo near a wood stove. They drink strong, sweet iced-tea, despite the needles of sleet blowing outside. They have gossiped about Catriona since she and her husband moved to Egypt Virginia, earlier that year. They can’t table the topic of Catriona Leith, because it never finds satisfactory resolution. There are still questions. Where is she from? Does she have children? How old is she?

    Cora Profitt, a woman who chain smokes, and can work six bingo cards at a time, lets it be known that her son Jody, has been hired to work as a gardener for the Leiths. Coara says that Jody is awed by Catriona, and talks about her all the time. Jody says that Catriona laughs at one moment, eager to show him the beds full of new plants, bleeding hearts and creeping phlox, but in the next moment, she is quiet and focused on one bud or branch communing with only that single thing. Ruby Tyree, the uncontested bully of the group, takes off her glasses, wipes sweat from her forehead with a paper napkin and remarks on the enchantment of Jody, who, in her opinion, is a gullible young man.

    “He’s been taken in by her. A haint’s what she is, but he cain’t see it. She’s hired that colored woman, Neddy. Neddy’s as close to a witch as they come. Everybody knows that.” After Ruby speaks she glares at the others, moving her eyes from face to face, daring anyone to question whether there even are witches. She rolls thick smoke out of her mouth and then inhales it through her nose, adding emphasis to what she has said about capture, and recapture.

    • I’m intrigued by Catriona too. 🙂 What happens next?

      • mariannehvest

        I think her husband is a cruel man whom she both wants to leave and who she wants to stop from doing his bad stuff (like breeding fighting dogs or maybe selling children), not sure. I’ve always liked this piece but I never know where to go with it.

        • Well the mystery is there, so your imagination can take you to so many different directions. You can even make a story with few endings for the reader to pick. It would be so modern 🙂

        • Wow, boyo, that’s a really gritty conflict to play with

    • It would seem to me that you’re working with themes of prejudice, suspicion, maybe insanity. You’ve set up a lot of darkness, a lot of not knowing. This is good.

      • mariannehvest

        Thanks I just hope I’ve not built it up to much. I need to have a body or a reasonable alternative soon.

    • Juliana Austen

      I like this is, Marianne! I get an overwhelming sense of grief – is she tending a grave in the forest?

      • Guest

        I don’t know yet but it’s funny you should say that. I drew a picture of her in a long green winter coat with a shovel in her hand. I thought she was digging the grave of someone or of a pet. She is sad.

      • mariannehvest

        I’m glad you got that she is sad. I drew a picture of her yesterday with a shovel in her hand, with the idea that she is digging the grave of a pet.

    • Marianne, exceptional rendering of details, as always

      • mariannehvest

        Thanks Yvette Carol!

  • Here’s the beginning of a short story I’m writing:

    So this is it, this harbour. This is where he lives, the great man the maestro.
    These fishermen with their squid buckets and their ouzo, and the celebrities and their yachts and the cats, scrawny creatures, and above all and permeating everything this blinding whiteness—so this is a poet’s inspiration.

    He steps off the gangplank onto the cobbled quay, the ground beneath his feet nothing less than holy ground. He breathes deeply. Already he understands. Just this much, just this, it is almost enough.

    A waiter serves an old man fidgeting his worry beads in the café shade. They must know him, must at least have spoken with the great man. This chair, has he sat in this chair, his hands on this very cup? Such fantasies are wasting time, he lives here but where? He must be quick. The ship weighs anchor in two hour’s time. Which of the houses that cling to the cliffs around this whitewashed harbour is his?

    I’M WRITING THIS STORY from an urge to show “obsession”. The protagonist is a pilgrim for whom nothing is “enough”. He will be lured to the point of death by always wanting a stronger scent of what it is he thinks he’s missing in his life. I want to show how obsessed we writers can get. I want to take a writer to the end of the line.

    • That’s such an amazing perspective to show; provoke that is. I wasn’t sure about what lay in the background perspective from the very short excerpt, but that’s a great topic to explore – very sharp. I’d love to read the whole story.

      • Oh and in context of exploring obsession in writers, I’d recommend this book: Double Exposure by Gaetan Brulotte, a Canadian writer. It’s mind-blowing.

    • mariannehvest

      What a great idea. So the maestro is going to represent the goal of the protagonist, with the goal actually being for the protagonist to write “the great american novel” himself or in another sense the protagonist wants to be the maestro? I like the idea and I can see the obsession from the first few lines. There are so many things that can lie under an idea like this, obsession can lead to stalking, to losing one’s own self to attain the holy grail or to even become the maestro, and it can lead to disillusionment too. . I listened to a song the other day called “Take take take” and it was about a guy who idolized a movie star and was satisfied at first to be in the same room with her but then wanted her picture, then her autograph, then a kiss, then a lock of her hair. He got kicked out of course but the chorus was “and that was all I needed”. I think you have a great basic idea and I know you write well so I hope it becomes a book eventually. Sorry this is so long but I’m really taken with your idea. I think it’s great.

    • I can tell you, this idea is working, PJ, because within the first few lines my insides were already churning with disquiet

  • I have to confront him! I watched the once so beautiful village that I grew to love. The village I built for years with my own hands and sweat, trying to perfect the structure. The village that I also destroyed with my own hands.
    I walked the snow filled ruins that filled my face with dull colors. The beige snow slowly dropped on my bare skin leaving a cottony feeling instead of that smooth substance.gusts of dust and ash found its way through my nose, tickling it a harsh tickle. The sound of a gunshot rang in my ears and made my skin crawl. Terror and insecurity filled my thoughts and pounded my heart, which shot them through my veins. The smell of death and decay is all that my nose received. I was the reason for all of this.
    Now the villagers spend their time drinking and throwing their money away. They forgot their jobs and responsibilities. Families split. Gang wars broke through the village . They are destroying themselves and the village along with them.
    A cry interrupted my thought, it was a cry of terror, but there was a twist to it. There was something that gave it depth and complexity. It was a cry of pain, yet it had a tinge of beauty. It made my body tingle and burst with emotion. Every hair on my body stood up in harmony with a plunge of my heart.
    I searched for the source and found a woman dressed in rags carrying a baby. Her face was drenched with tears. Her baby carried an innocent naïve smile.
    I opened my mouth, but words failed me. Her eyes said everything and I knew what I had to do.
    There was nothing else I could do. Her eyes told me to, so I moved on. I walked through the village until there were no more houses and in front of me lay a cave. I stopped.
    This is where I rid myself of fear. This is where I save my village. This is where I find resolutions. This is where our new year starts.
    I shouted out loud producing a loud ring of echoes in the cave. My flow stopped. The responding grunt was far more terrifying than I had expected.
    A gruesome, bony black figure emerged. His fur was black with a mix of white snow and splatters of fresh blood. His bloody razor-like hands were dripping. He stood on strong talon shaped feet. His face was too much to withstand.
    His bony, skeletal head had empty eye sockets, yet he could see me clearly. Hi jaw was full of red teeth. His skin was partly ripped, as if he was wearing a mask that is too small for him. His voice was the language of horror, and I heard it with every breath. It made me want to run away, however, something kept me in place. Blood dropped from his mouth.
    We both know why I came. “back off!” he snarled. I stood still, keeping my motives focused. Every part of my body told me to run away, but I wouldn’t, nay, I couldn’t.
    He struck at me, thus the battle begun. However, they were both still. It felt as if our whole surroundings were watching what seemed to be nothing. No, it was a raging battle. we were each tugging at each other’s mind, trying to penetrate their defenses.
    The beast had an advantage though, he knew my deepest and darkest fears. He forced them into my brain. He was making me endure immense mortal terror. I shrieked a shreak that protruded from my deep inner heart. He had managed to tear out a part of my soul. He found my strength, and now he crushed it. I fell to the ground, paralyzed, in pure lifeless agony.
    A heartless strategy, crush my soul, then kill me. He’s` giving me a dose of torture deep within my soul, scarring me for life, or what is left of it.
    This is where he struck his final move. He leapt. There wasn’t anything else I could do but watch helplessly, in defeat. I failed this village, and myself. It was far too late. I had already condemned it too much.
    I thought of the woman and her baby. I remembered her powerful cry. It was the cry of hope. Tears slowly rolled down my eyes. It was so beautiful, the cry of an angel. I remembered the baby’s naïve smile that would soon fade. With the beast getting closer, I thought this can’t be the end.
    HELP ME! Screeched a soul, it was much more powerful, and it, no, she entered into my heart, producing warmth. I can’t give up. For a moment, I closed my eyes, thinking of what’s at stake, in complete and utter belief.
    The beast was only inches away! A familiar spirit shot through my heart, it was a villager! Another! Another! Just then, a horde of souls entered my heart, harmonically and peacefully. I felt infinite.
    Alas, it was too late; the beast’s razors had impacted. However, I felt a glow growing through my heart instead of pain. Lights shot out of my chest, drowning the whole place in light.
    As I stood up, I saw a sun rise and heard a crowd’s cheer. It was a new year, a new start. I had killed the beast inside of me.

    THE WRITER’s PERSPECTIVE in this is asking the greatest questions that ive always pondered. How can someone turn into his greatest nightmare. How can all his morals turn against him? How can there behope in the hardest of times? Most importantly, how your true self can always find his way back, with belief

    • Great work Mahmoud. You know, I’m interested in the same questions too. They are encompassing everything else really and offer always new ways of trying to tackle them.

  • With a soft cotton cloth, Tommy wipes the mouth and neck of an old dusty bottle taken from a wooden box lined with straw. He breaks the red wax label seal then pops the cork. He shouts out to Manuel. “Manny”.

    “Yes, Mister Tommy.”


    Tommy waves him in to the study. Manuel stands beside him. “This – my good man
    is the finest example of brandy that I own.”

    Manuel says, “Ah, brandy. . . I know.”

    Tommy says, “Well… all Cognac is brandy, but not all brandy is Cognac. . .

    Tommy wearing a shit eating grin holds the bottle up like a trophy and continues, “Nothing has quite the sound as cognac when poured from the mouth of a 100 year old bottle of Croizet Bonaparte”, and he pours them each a glassful and continues,

    “The pour is a soft but dense gulp, a sound like that of galloping hooves of distant
    horses upon a carpet of moss in the Scottish highlands.”

    Tommy looks at Manuel smiling and nodding and says, “You don’t understand a fucking thing I’m saying, do you?”

    Manuel nods still smiling.

    “My words are being totally wasted here”, Tommy grumbles with amusement, “Anyway – Tommy continues – Unlike lesser brandies, the difference is compared to a fine play of a cello versus that of a transistor radio . . . tuned to A.M.”

    Tommy hands Manuel a cigar and lights it, after puffing, Manuel smiles again then chugs the cognac. “No, No, Tommy says as he puts his hand up in a stopping motion, pours Manuel another and says, “Like this”, and rolls the fine juice in the snifter, then sips gently. Manuel follows, and utters,

    “Ahhh . . . Good.”

    As Tommy is briefly distracted by the sudden entrance of Manuel’s little one’s; Manuel gulps the remaining jigger of cognac.

    I’m hoping to show the different sides of Tommy; on one hand he is trying to take pleasure in the whole idea of style and sophistication – of owning and drinking the expensive brandy – and on the other hand not taking himself too serious either. I’m trying to illustrate the contrast between Tommy’s air of sophistication and Manuel’s assumed ignorance, as well as the language barrier. Also, I’m trying to show the humor of Manuel’s purpose over style and his rejection of Tommy’s airs. There are other layers of the characters that become more meaningful within the larger scope of the work. (Hope it makes sense.)

  • Ralph

    This is a simple story written for 5 year olds and below, or anyone that has a child inside them.


    Jane likes everything clean. No fingerprints.

    No fingerprints on the window pane.

    No fingerprints on the blackboard.

    No fingerprints on the glasses.

    No fingerprints on the watch face.

    No fingerprints on the glass with water.

    Jane is happy with no fingerprints on everything.

    One day comes a new student. Her name is Sally.

    Sally touches the window pane. Jane cleans it.

    Sally touches the blackboard. Jane dusts it.

    Sally touches the glasses. Jane wipes it.

    Sally touches the watch face. Jane polishes it.

    Sally touches the glass with water. Jane washes it.

    Jane is mad and tired….

    “When will this girl stops?” thought Jane.

    “What are you doing?” asked Jane.

    “Hi, I’m Sally. I’m doing fingerprints painting.” replied Sally.

    “This looks dirty!” cringed Jan.

    “This is fun!” beamed Sally.

    Jane joins Sally.

    Fingertips in red.

    Hands in blue.

    Some prints here…

    Many there…

    “This is FUN!” shrieked Jane.

    “I told you so.” said Sally.

    –The End–

    I believe that writing should be like a conversation between two children, honest and simple and other funny.
    There are times a writer can explore writing in other topics that he is not familiar with and be less prejudice against other forms of writing (fiction, non-fiction, journal, reviews, etc) like how ‘Jane’ tried finger and hand print, messing around and having fun while making a new friend.