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Here they come: The “Bail Out the Writers” articles

and just in the nick of time!  We all just finished explaining to our children why Santa skips every few years. From this weekend’s Book Review:

I am not suggesting that a Rooseveltian approach to the writing crisis is inappropriate. Rather, we should look elsewhere in Roosevelt’s legacy for a modern solution. A good place to start would be the Agricultural Adjustment Administration. This entity recognized that an overcapacity of farms and farm produce was driving down crop prices, and that elimination of that over­capacity was needed.

Overcapacity has been something generally acknowledged across the writing industry for at least 10 years. In a 2002 essay in The New York Times, the onetime best-selling novelist and story writer Ann Beattie mourned the situation of the modern writer, living in a world where people are more interested in “being a writer” than in writing itself. “There are too many of us, and M.F.A. programs graduate more every year, causing publishers to suffer snow-blindness, which has resulted in everyone getting lost,” she lamented. That Ann Beattie must now compete on Amazon with a self-published author named Ann Rothrock Beattie is proof of how enormous the blizzard has become.  Read mas.

Perhaps not the best time ever for anyone to quit their day jobs, but when was it?

5 comments on “Here they come: The “Bail Out the Writers” articles

  1. Chris Ransick
    December 18, 2008

    I read that column in the NYT Book Review and was struck, as I always am by such essays, by what seems depressingly obvious: that so many writers who are wracked with frustration over not yet achieving “success” seem myopically centered on the dream of making a living as an author, and that is making them miserable.

    It’s a sweet, seductive dream but as it eludes them, day after week after year, their frustration and ennui mount and the whinging grows more furious until it sours the writer’s self, or even snuffs out creativity. This suggests that the writer was always fueled primarily by desire for the money, and now my mind turns to a particular metaphor for such a writer that I better not offer here for fear of being too harsh. Rather, let me say I understand that desire; I share a touch of it, but I liken it to the acute pang of desire I might feel when a remarkably beautiful woman I do not know and never will know walks past me on a sunny afternoon and smiles at me. Well, it’s awfully nice to think about all that for a brilliant moment or two but the dream is blunt and shallow, finally, and even vaguely embarrassing to admit.

    If I write mainly because I want wads of money for my words, I’m basing my dream on the assumption I deserve that money out of the pockets of good people everywhere. That’s a big assumption, and one bound to disappoint unless I write specifically what makes money by pleasing the good people out there, and all the while I must simultaneously keep yearning and jostling for position with all my might. Good luck with that. I’m more comfortable in the intellectual company of those who basically get the fact that they will not likely see significant payment for their creative work. If it happens, well, wahoo. Meanwhile, head down, work hard. Enter this space and watch your angst evaporate in little puffs of green mist. You are now free to write the best material you can write, without boundary or reservation, without a bit between your teeth. You may produce beauty or abomination, you may find many readers or few, but you’ll do it without a millstone around your neck. If this freedom is insufficient to sustain your creativity, you will need to be brutally honest with yourself about some things.

    I realize this attitude opens me up to criticism, some of it probably well founded. Do what must be done and I will hear it as if it were a fly pinging off the screen door.

  2. andreadupree
    December 18, 2008

    Hey, Ransick. I’d be the last one to fly into your screen door — I totally agree. I always liked Scotty and Joy Sawyer’s approach. They never expect to make a dime off the writing they love doing, and then if they do, it’s all gravy. Perhaps I’m among a species of undermotivated story writers, but imagine all the ulcers I avoid!

  3. gary s
    December 19, 2008

    Ransick, what a strong statement– I attended a lecture once by Vonnegut, a man with an ego as large as his frame (6’7″ or so) and he said (something to the effect) “I hope you write for the thrill of it because there are only a few of ‘us’ in the world.” At first I thought well you eogcentric SOB but then I thought, well that is pretty good advice to write by.
    And then I read the current New Yorker article by Mark Twain, “The Privilege of the Grave” where he asserts the one privilege not exercised by any living person: free speech. And I thought, that is kind of like a writer “dead” to the public, free to write what she wishes. So, I’m thinking that we should write without wishes, without ambitions, just write our own truths. A hard enough task in itself. But spirit-affirming.

  4. gary s
    December 19, 2008

    ps. Mike and Chris have a great “back and forth” going on this site. You should keep a record– maybe something could develop from it. Point. Counterpoint?

  5. Chris Ransick
    December 30, 2008

    Vonnegut and Twain—and the Sawyers!—are on the mark. Freedom is the best space from which to operate as a writer, not just in terms of a guiding principle but in terms of putting down words on any given day. I’ve done contract writing in various forms; the paycheck is nice, no doubt. The byline is nice. The feeling of contract writing, however, is distinct from the feeling of writing wild.

    If you start within a space you define as free, the outcome of your effort will at least be linked to that freedom, regardless of whether it fills a bank account and nets you a second home in Vail and a host of adoring readers. Such things are dreams, and they might be realized, but I think how you get there does matter. It matters because that journey will be real while the dream destination is hardly assured. If Vonnegut is right and only a few writers get to that destination, I bet some will be honest and say it isn’t really like what was promised in their dreamscape. So, what then? You will have to look back to the long journey itself and live with it, whether good or bad.

    I do not think it’s wrong to write to please readers. In fact, I’ve been teaching writing a quarter century and I always love discussing the choice to write for yourself alone or in service to readers’ pleasure. I strongly encourage people to cultivate an awareness of what pleases readers and to work hard to blend their vision and voice with the ability to deliver the goods to readers. But I think that is an issue distinct from writing specifically to reel in fortune and fame. Many fine writers please readers deeply and must still work a day job for their bread and ale.

    So I’m with Joy and Scotty on this, and with all the other wordsmiths who work line by line and are content to be free with it all. If, however, I somehow manage to cash it all in down the line, there will be free drinks for the whole Lighthouse crew.

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This entry was posted on December 12, 2008 by in Complaint, The Scoop, The Write Idea.

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