Sunday, May 24, 2009

Must I Write?

There is something almost self-defeating and pointless to the idea of producing art for a market place. One must either already be established or they have to get established, taking some slow road to publication through journals or the proliferation of web outlets. Blind optimism and dogged determination are the factors that must reign because if you don't want complete obscurity, you need to try to fit yourself in.
I can be accused of hyping (maybe too often) the books that the major news media hypes, while generally overlooking the obscure, humbler publications that are put out by little known publishers. But on occasion, browsing a bookstore or a review site, I come across a work by accident and the writing to me is as original, interesting and compelling as the hyped one I set out looking for. I take heart in that. If the New York Times Book Review christens a book by making it the front page review, and everyone falls in line, that doesn't necessarily guarantee book sales or even that the book in question merits the attention--I always wonder about the back room machinations of those choices. Was it one top editor's favorite read that week or did the publisher promote it with enough advertising money to make it appealing? So many of these books then never catch on, so what does that author do?  
Authors are inclined to have to do their own hype and marketing strategizing, whether they are in a featured NYT book review, or published by the Unknown press (I suppose self-publishing comes into this, too, although the lack of an extrinsic vetting process leaves me dubious about self-published writing). I can surmise that in the realm of promotion, at that point the writer probably simply wants people to pick up their book and read it. If there are only a handful of fiction writers making a living at their writing, what is the point of trying to do it? Well, I go back to my original motivation, and I feel like if it's art that you are creating, that can sustain you in and of itself. Maybe not. Still, I've decided to play the game but I keep my eye on why I'm doing it--it's that call that Rilke suggested in "Letters to a Young Poet":
"Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all--ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write?"
Writing in the web sphere, it's second nature for me to develop a constant stream of ideas about how to promote my work. For me, this is a combination of curiosity and fascination with this technological medium at my fingertips, but I recognize this can also be a huge resource drain. Yet I always remember when I didn't have this outlet, not so long ago. As distracting as it is, I keep it in check and have to pull back on occasion to remember my artistic calling and goals. I suppose if I had the publishing world clamoring to my work, I wouldn't get so caught up in the notion that I'm writing this and someone out there can read it if they like. Sometimes that's enough.

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