Slouching Towards Authordom – Writer, Know Thyself!
Put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer.
But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth,
without pity, and destroy most of it.
I am not going to talk about editing today, not in a usual sense. Today, I want to talk about much more difficult subjects: personal standards and honest self-appraisal.
We live in a world teeming with blogs and tweets, self-published e-books and vanity presses eager to capitalize on the desire for authorial recognition – for seeing one’s name in print.
When I was a kid, we had the phone book to assuage that overwhelming urge, now it’s the wilds of Cyberia!
This is nothing short of remarkable. In a generation, we writers have entered a technological paradise, in which every person with a computer can not only write, but be read by legions of total strangers. Kudos are just a keystroke away, and beyond that the brass ring of potential discovery. It is when in the midst of more adulation than one gets at Christmas dinner that we must be most unsentimental with our own critical faculties. For, while new Cyberian paradigms let us flirt shamelessly with fame and fortune, they also entice us into slow-dancing with rampant self-indulgence.
(A diary, as Oscar Wilde said, is sensational train reading, but it is still a private thing, not shouted from the rooftops. Personally, I think we could use a little Victorian decorum back in our public lives.)
The fact is, just as not every tablecloth scrawl Picasso did over a bottle of vin ordinaire is fit for the Louvre, not every thought that flits through our heads is fit for print. That doesn’t mean it’s not delightful and worthy in its own way. It might, like this Editor’s Corner, be well suited to a blog, but not rise to the standards of something for which you’re comfortable asking someone to lay out their hard-earned cash.
And that’s ok. In the 21st century, the idea of a writer living a hermitic existence is passé at best. Unless you’re Stephen King or Thomas Pynchon, you have to be out there, a visible presence on Facebook and blogging, selling yourself as much as your books. And while we all need to have fun or rant or brag about our new kittens, what we put out there, in whatever form, shapes our public persona and – right or wrong – how people think about our work.
Thus, discrimination becomes the hallmark of our existence. Even before we look for an outside editor or an agent, we must look at our work, clear-eyed and with rigorous honesty, not only as to quality but also as to fit. Remember: while there is room for all sorts of expression in this brave new world, just because something can be sold on Kindle, doesn’t necessarily mean it should be. So know your standards and don’t be discouraged. Good work finds its niche; sometimes that niche is free. And that’s ok, too.
In the midst of it all, we balance our at times paralyzing penchant for self-doubt, with an unquestionable need to be realistic about our abilities, creations, and audience. We learn to trust our inner voices, building strength to strength. Then, in our way, we will not have to lament, as Leonardo did, that we “have offended God and mankind because [our] work didn’t reach the quality it should have.”