Friday, March 16, 2007

Art For Art's Sake?

I shot my mouth off again on a writers' loop this week.

I couldn't help myself. There was a guy grousing about all the agents and publishers who've rejected him. And, of course, instead of taking those rejections as a sign he needed to work on his manuscript, he blamed the agents and publishers for not recognizing great writing when they saw it.

I was reminded of a book that was popular in the late '70s titled The Road Less Traveled. The book was written by a psychiatrist named M. Scott Peck. While I've never been a big fan of self-help books, there was a passage in that book I've never forgotten.

Dr. Peck described most of the patients he saw in his practice as falling into one of two camps: they either suffered from a neurosis or from a character disorder. He described both conditions as disorders of responsibility. To put it simply, neurotic people think everything is their fault and character-disordered people believe nothing is their fault.

Obviously, treating the neurotic patient is much easier than treating the character-disordered. The neurotic patient already believes he's the cause of his own problems while the character-disordered patient blames her problems on everyone else.

God knows I'm neurotic. Every time I got a rejection, I assumed that it was my writing that needed work. It never occurred to me to blame the rejection on the agent or publisher.

Anyway, I responded to the complaining post by saying the following:

Writing may be an art, but publishing is a business. If a writer wants to cross the divide into publishing, he needs to stop thinking of himself as an artist and begin to think of himself as a professional. That means recognizing his query letter is a business interview, his manuscript is a product for sale, and he is entering into a contract to perform for money.

If you are not willing to perform to expectations, you need to consider self-publishing.

You can imagine the firestorm that followed. I was accused of "selling out" and of prostituting myself for cash. Accusations like that just make me tired.

The guy who'd been whining went into long perorations about his "art" and his refusal to become another cog in the machine of publishing. It was mental masturbation, and I finally responded, "You're stroking yourself here, and you don't need me for that."

I am often amazed by coincidences. Twelve hours later, I was reading Miss Snark's postings for 3/15/07 here. In a post titled "Give Me a F/ing Break," the divine Miss S responded in similar fashion to another "arty" type:

You think a writer just pours words onto paper in a fever of creativity, and originality? Yea, they do. It's called the first draft. Then comes the writing.

Don't give me one single bit of guff about rules and knee jerk publishing. It's a whole lot harder to do it than feel it.

As always, she delights me with her no-nonsense approach.


B.E. Sanderson said...

You tell 'em, Maya. Writing is an art, but it's not friggin' abstract act (thank goodness) - where you just splash whatever you feel like down and hope someone will buy it. It takes work, and anyone who's not willing to put in the work... They're the ones who scream loudest about having to follow the rules. Feh.

Sherrill Quinn said...

Writing the book is only about...what? A quarter of the work? Then you have to rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite. Polish it until it shines. Get a critique group that appreciates your voice but doesn't fawn at your feet and tell you your work doesn't need changed. Then it's off hunting for an agent and/or editor--pay attention, folks. If you're in this to make some money, pay attention to what the experts in the industry tell you. They're in it to make money, too, but most of them also just really like a good read.

Therese said...

Maya: I found you via B.E.'s blog, and just want to say I'm with you.

You're definitely no sell-out; in fact you seem very sensible. Good for you for being the voice of reason.

Chesya said...

Nice post.

I agree with everyone here. I've often written about writers who think they are the exception.

They're not.

Marie Tuhart said...

Maya, I'm with you. Pat yourself on the back for speaking up.

I'm so tired of people not looking at their writing, instead blaming an editor, agent or contest judge that "you just didn't get it." No, I didn't that means you didn't do your job as a writer.

Keep up the good work. And I like you, every time I get a rejection I look back at the work and say "what did I do wrong and how do I fix it."