Question of the day: are you insane to think your writing means anything? The question of whether you are a nut-job or not is rather easily answered. It all depends on your expectations. And your motivation. And what ‘meaning’ means to you. Do you write because you love to write or because you see it as your ticket to fame? Do you publish because you are proud of your work and hope that maybe a handful of people will enjoy it or because you expect a royalty check that will buy you a Ferrari? If you write because you love it, you’re all good. If you publish because you want to share your work, great. If you expect to be recognized for your efforts…or to profit from them…you are in for a rude awakening.
Allow me a moment of misanthropy here. Most people are boring. Let me explain what I mean. Imagine yourself at a cocktail party. Chances are, you will spend 90% of the party making inane small talk that doesn’t challenge you intellectually, doesn’t force you to step outside your ‘comfort zone’, doesn’t introduce you to any new ideas or make you question your existing beliefs…you will have a series of short conversations that will leave no impression on you at all. You will not remember them the next day. They filled time. That’s all.
Every so often you go to a party and you randomly have a really interesting, really stimulating, really funny and creative conversation with someone. Often you are guided to it. A friend will grab you by the arm with the old ‘you have to talk to X, you’re going to love him.”
Most people just aren’t that interesting. I’m not saying they are bad people. This is an important distinction. There’s nothing wrong with being boring. In fact, boring people are quite important. But the fact that they are the majority should tell you something.
Now, let’s make the cocktail party a book store (we’ll pretend they still exist) and the people at the party are books. Writers love to pick on Twilight. And if you love sparkly vampires more power to you, but most writers don’t. And here’s why. Twilight took the literary world by storm. It got people who never read to actually pick up a book. And it is not that good. I will freely admit that I did not make it past the first page when someone gave my wife a copy, but that is because I read the first page and said, ‘there’s no way in hell I’m reading this’. But there are millions of people who think it is the greatest book ever written and many of those people have never heard of The Great Gatsby. They would never consider taking on The Count of Monte Cristo or reading a ‘weird’ book like Breakfast of Champions. And those are BIG, FAMOUS books. I’m not even going to get into the amazing books that have been written and read by a few hundred people.
Capitalism = mediocrity when it comes to the arts. And the reason is quite simple. Those boring people at the cocktail party are the ones we have to sell books to if we want to ‘make it’. The majority of people who buy my book or visit my blog are other writers. Sure, there are moments when I fantasize that somehow the Coen Brothers will stumble across my novel, love it, make it into a movie and then send me a huge check. But I try to be realistic. And a much more realistic scenario is that I will sell some books for very little money, and that I will never be able to make a living from writing fiction.
There are fields where the cream rises to the top – that’s the whole point of the American Dream. If you are the best basketball player in your High School, chances are fairly good that you will get a college scholarship. If you stand out playing college ball…really stand out….chances are pretty good that the Pros will look at you.
If you are ‘the best’ in your professional field and you work hard, you will be promoted and, while you may not end up owning the company, you will make a good living.
If you are a great writer, chances are that no one will ever even know you exist…no matter how good you are or how hard you work. That’s just reality. Most people don’t read and when they do read, they read a national bestseller they have heard about or read about or been given as a present. They don’t go scouring the internet to find the obscure wheat buried in the mountain of literary chaff that independent writers produce.
And the majority of writers, independent or otherwise, are ‘paint by the numbers’ writers. Another reason writers hate Twilight is because, thanks to Stephenie Meyer, there are now thousands and thousands of mediocre writers churning out books about vampires that are even worse than Twilight.
This may all sound like sour grapes. And on some level, it surely is, but not as much as you might think. I don’t think I am the greatest writer of all time. I don’t think I am the worst either. I’ll settle for being good and realistic. Otherwise, writing becomes a game you play and can never win. And it will drive you crazy. Except for the random hail mary pass, most of us will march steadily towards the goal line and get part of the way downfield. And that’s OK. That’s the bargain you make as an artist. The best bands, for the most part, never get rich. The best painters may amaze their friends, but they aren’t selling million dollar paintings. It’s a weird deal to make with the universe, but we do it. You can either mimic something that has already been done and try to tap into an existing market or you can create what is true to you. Maybe you’ll be the one in a thousand who takes that gamble and wins big. Chances aren’t good. But if you write for yourself…if you become part of the creative community and appreciate the people who do line their bookshelves or fill their kindles with wheat…well, you’ve got a good thing going. Creativity for its own sake is exciting and beautiful. Doing what you love doesn’t always make you rich. That’s what the lottery is for.
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