Monday, February 25, 2008

A Horse of Another Choler or The Elephant in the Living Room

1. Many individuals who like to think of themselves as writers have the singular goal of publication.

2. Many individuals who enjoy thinking of themselves as writers allow the goal of publication to stand in their way of becoming even better writers than they momentarily are.

3. Thus the goal of publication appears, trumping the goal of enhancing craft.

4. Not all piano players want to perform, say Mozart piano sonatas, in Carnegie Hall.

5. Victoria Ponce, one of the lead characters in Antonio Skarmeta's remarkable new novel, The Dancer and the Thief, is driven to perform at major concert halls throughout the world because she has a specific message she wants to convey to as many devotees of the dance as possible.

6. An author for whom I have edited his last twelve books insists he is not a writer but variously a mechanic and a wordsmith.

7. Some writers so wish to become published that they ultimately despair of ever accomplishing their goal.

8. Nevertheless they keep writing.

9. If there is such a thing as a "natural" writer or a "born" writer, it is a person I know who has now published seven novels, one of which was made into a motion picture, another placed in motion picture development. In addition she has published over forty short stories. Her best work has dogs in them.

10. Skarmata's previous novel was about a humble postman who enists the help of Pablo Neruda in his desire to permanently win the affections of a woman.

11. Some writers attempt to enlist the help of exercises and formulae to inspire them and enhance their craft as writers.

12. Exercises and formulae are neither good nor bad, they simply exist just as craft exists and writers exist.

13. Many writers who at one time despaired of ever publishing anything and who are now published authors admit that the story or essay or poem or novel that lost them their publishing virginity had no qualities that were significantly more profound or less awful tha things they had written previously.

14. Try to imagine the response if someone had asked Amy Lowell during her lifetime if she had published anything.

15. There is no record of Norman Mailer having attempted to stab his wife or any girlfriend prior to his having placed a short story in Story Magazine, which led to his publication of The Naked and Dead.

There is ample record that Norman Mailer stabbed his wife after becoming a published author.

17. Henry Green went sixty years between books.

18. There were significant gaps in Grace Paley's publishing chronology.

19. Every writer has at least one story that refuses to be sold.

20. You have one such story that not only refused to be sold, it put at least two magazines out of business.

21. If you stop whatever you're doing when you get an idea for a story and set about writing it until it is finished, there is a high probability that you will in the richness of time get another idea for yet another story.

22. If you stop whatever you're doing long enough to write a detailed set of notes when you get a idea for a story, you will probably not get so many ideas for short stories but you will have literate notebooks.


R.L. Bourges said...

re your title: fyi trusty wikipedia does a rather nice comparative table of the "four humours"
10. Ah, Il Postino with Philippe Noiret (but the book must be even better still)
14. My favorite Amy Lowell is probably The Red Shoes
15-16. Best argument I've ever encountered against submitting one's work for publication. Thank you for that.
19. I reversed the odds and had one story published with my name on it. Didn't stab anyone, (it was a very short story, couldn't find a penknife small enough to match).
20. This is impressive. Should figure prominently in every bio.
21. Yes, for sure.
22. Yes, definitely.

Unknown said...

I've found that the best way to unblock writers is to suggest to them that publication won't make them into writers, nor will it validate them, nor will it do anything except put their words in print to be read or not read by God knows who.

Writing is such a thankless task that nobody should do it unless driven by insatiable compulsion.

And if that compulsion exists, publication is almost irrelevant. Measuring the self against the achievements of the self is a lot more likely to result in better writing than chasing publication will do.

My viewpoint isn't a popular one, I notice.

Unknown said...

I long ago decided that writing for the love of doing so mattered more to me than the eventual goal of publication. I am one of those writers that has several half finished ideas in the works. Books that are 1/4 to half written are scattered about my hard drive and on-line file storage spaces. Time to finish is in short supply, and so I despair that anything will ever make it to the desk to be rejected or accepted. Yet I carry on, spinning out more and more ideas, and giving them their beginnings.