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John Shirley just wrote,

"I abound in stories. I always have. The trouble is I can't be troubled to write most of them down, and much of what I think of just isn't commercial. When I was younger, I didn't care if it was commercial. Or perhaps it's more the case that I just assumed that This Fabulous Idea, this Walloping Story, would be loved by one and all, except a few old fuddy duddies who didn't want to hear about junkies and policemen and zoo gorillas floating over the city in clouds of trash and loose furniture when gravity was cancelled out... Or that people didn't necessarily want to read paranoid left wing political allegories--they wanted their cyberpunk to be, well, just cyberpunk, dammit.

Eventually I started getting a clue. Now I spend a fair amount of time deciding what not to try to write. I need to sort through ideas and pick things that have a commercial chance."


It's not a post, I think, that is meant to be something you analyse with a huge amount of depth or time (it's mostly Shirley just blogging to kill some time, possibly while avoiding mapping out an essay... no, wait, that's me) but running in the background is, from the bits I copied, the suggestion that to be a successful writer, you have to put aside the things that you would like to write. Like that paranoid left wing cyberpunk allegory... you have to put it aside because it's just not commercial.

It's not the first time I've heard it. I hear it a whole heap: writers talking about how they didn't write something because it would sell, or they wrote it because it would... and it's just a depressing thing to hear. Sure, there are commercial aspects to consider about publishing, and I don't believe that any writer wants to disappear into the hole that is called 'insane left/right wing politics' and lose their head because their bowls clench in one sudden movement...

But.

But I hear this a lot, and I don't hear writers talking about art. I don't hear about them talking about writing as an art. There's a bit of the old wank backlash against talking about anything is being meaningful, as being something that (in this case) the author set out with the intention of creating not something that he or she could sell, but something that spoke as a work of art.

I'm not saying anything, really. Just thoughts out loud. Maybe it's just that I've been noticing a lot of talk about the commercial aspect--as in write what sells--for the last couple of months.

Comments

catvalente
Jul. 19th, 2004 12:08 am (UTC)
That passage makes me recoil. I write what I write--I worry about the rest of it later. The art you're talking about--that's all that matters to me.
benpeek
Jul. 19th, 2004 12:12 am (UTC)
well, that's what matters to me, too. but maybe this is how young writers start (there's not much of a diff between us, i think) and shirley represents how middle aged writers become?

but at any rate, here's a question i've been thinking about: have you seen many writers talk about art lately?
catvalente
Jul. 19th, 2004 12:16 am (UTC)
I hope I never get like that--I doubt I will. I'm pretty used to being the odd duck in the crowd--that freak who actually cares about stuff. How bizarre.

Mmm. No, I hear a lot of talk about what's "edgy" and what the "next wave" is, but I think everyone is so afraid of being called pretentious that they won't use the word "art" in regards to their own work or anyone else's.

Of course, I get called pretentious anyway, so I don't care.
benpeek
Jul. 19th, 2004 12:28 am (UTC)
well, i hope i don't become like that either. (there doesn't seem much chance, thankfully.) but maybe it is the curse of being a midlist professional writer, however. to be middle aged, have a family, house, whatever, and be a writer--maybe this is what happens.

i think the word art, in relation to writing, needs to come back. yes i do.
catvalente
Jul. 19th, 2004 12:29 am (UTC)
So do I. I guess that makes us a movement. ;)
benpeek
Jul. 19th, 2004 12:35 am (UTC)
we need midgets, then, to advertise and do interviews for us.
catvalente
Jul. 19th, 2004 01:02 am (UTC)
An army of midgets, preaching the word. And the midgets need T-shirts.
benpeek
Jul. 19th, 2004 06:32 pm (UTC)
oh no, i'm not turning my midgets into a branding device :)