Prodigal Pen Dept.


A discussion over at MizKit's LJ about self-publishing (among other things) yielded up this comment:

The problem was [as a younger writer], I just wasn't very good. [me. — ed]

That is, of course, the baseline problem with most writing. As newguydave just said elsewhere, "A violinist doesn't pick up an instrument, learn their first piece, and think they're ready for Carnegie Hall. Further to that, if they're not ready to play in the orchestra, they don't start their own.

Why do writers then believe that if they finish a novel, it should be published, and if nobody wants it, they'll print their own. I can think of very few industries where if you're not good enough, you can go out and do it anyways.|

I have several theories for why this sort of thing happens. The one I'm putting most credence into right now I call the Cult of the Prodigy Theory.

The CotPT revolves around the idea that the publishing business loves to hype books by twenty-something young geniuses. Look at how brilliant they are now — think of where they'll be in twenty years! Why, they'll be freakin' literary godlings! The problem, of course, is that there is no single index for age vs. skill vs. accomplishment; some of the best creators produced their most revered material very late in life. History's littered with the cinders of stars that burned brightly, way too soon. Case in point: Orson Welles, whose defining moment came when he was twenty-five and everything after that was anticlimax.

Too many writers hear these one-sided success stories and assume that because they are young and writing ambitiously, that automatically translates into them being Good Writers Worth Publishing. Then they have someone who actually has publishing experience look at their work, shake their head slowly, and recommend a good workshop class. Or another career entirely. Such are the risks of listening to the propaganda for the outcome rather than becoming a student of the process.

I suspect a big part of why I give this theory the credence I do is because it squares with my own experiences. I listened to and devoured entirely too much "young genius" nonsense aimed at me when I was still in school, and ended up with a very insular set of conceits: Don't Tell Me What To Do, Everything Popular Is Crap Anyway, My Work Is Far Too Sophisticated For The Likes Of Your Puny Minds, etc. Took years to get over all that. I'm not sure I'm completely over all of it yet, either.

I also suspect one of the reasons writers get caught up in this kind of dragnet of misdirected ambition is because it's hard not to be a writer and also have some degree of pride in your work. The problem is that pride is all too easily conflated into arrogance and defensiveness. The longer you wait to let the air out of a swelled head, the harder it gets.


Tags: links writing




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