Wednesday, May 6, 2015

IWSG May 2015: It's Not You, It's Me...

The Insecure Writers Support Group meets digitally every month, and by "meets" I mean bloggers who write visit each other's blogs and offer support (hence "support" in the title).

I haven't been participating much lately.  I also haven't been writing lately.  Last November I began writing a new book, but I stopped the day my mother was transported to a nursing home, and I was so busy writing I actually thought writing was the more important thing happening at that time.  It wasn't.  My mother passed away a month ago.  I'm still not ready to tackle the book again.

I'm not saying anything in the preceding paragraph to trick you into feeling enough sympathy for me, to transform you as if by magic into a faithful and unquestioning follower and reader of me, buy my books, write glowing reviews...

In fact, reviews are exactly the topic, and also the reason why I'm not sure I should really continue writing on this particular blog.  I launched this one (I have many others, alas) in 2012 to help support and promote a series of self-published releases.  I learned very quickly that one does not get readership this way.  There is a way to get readers from blogging, but I am not someone who can do the necessary things to get those readers.  I am a nonconformist.  My life is a struggle of expectations because long ago I departed the beaten path, and the poem never explained how difficult that path really is.  (Darn you, Robert Frost!)

Reviews among bloggers has been the subject of heated controversy among two particular bloggers I've known for several years now.  I won't regurgitate the controversy here.  Suffice to say, but I've decided to write about it at all, here, because it's very relevant to how I struggle to view my own life as a writer.

Here's my favorite literary anecdote, by the way: Herman Melville was a hugely popular writer.  Until he published Moby-Dick.  Regardless of how you personally feel about Moby-Dick's literary merits, the fact remains that decades after Meville's death it finally came to be considered a classic, one of the defining works of American fiction.  Critics and readers at the time thought it was a hot mess.  They didn't understand at all what he'd been attempting to do.  (I've talked about this before.  Pat thinks it's absurd for me to even suggest comparing myself to Melville.  But still.)

I personally think it's absurd that Moby-Dick ruined Melville's career.  I think it's perfectly illustrative of everything anyone needs to know about reviews, about readership.  In the end, none of that matters.  Books that are hugely popular today can and will be completely forgotten tomorrow.  For some writers, that's perfectly okay.  For me, I'm not writing for short-term fame.  I want to write stories that are remembered a hundred years from now.  That is in fact ridiculous hubris.  There's absolutely no way to guarantee something like that.  But that's my goal.  I want to write something timeless.  Even if it never happens, even if I'm never read, seriously, at all...I still derive personal satisfaction from the act of writing, from tackling the challenge.  And I've struggled to accept that, too.

I have developed an allergy to writing that is easily identifiable as the writer writing for the mere act of writing, because they wanted to write, not because they had something they thought would be read in a hundred years.  For me, that's nonsense.  That's the kind of stuff I will never be able to review with even a glimmer of serious consideration.  I used to try.  I used to try and find the bright spots in mediocre writing.  But then I decided, why read that stuff at all?  I know what it is.  It's not for me.  And I know what is.  I know what I like.  Fishing can be fun.  But it can also be cause for great, completely unnecessary, misery.  I see no reason to afflict myself.  (I mean, if someone paid me to be a submissions reader...)

And so, that's what I'm writing about today, why this blog seems like kind of a bad idea in 2015, rather than the good idea it seemed in 2012.  Even if people do care what I have to say, the expectation is that I will do what everyone else does, even if someone says No no no! Absolutely not!, because it's what everyone does.  And the IWSG is clearly, specifically, intended to offer support no matter what.  Even if we're encouraging bad writers.

There's the notion that if it makes you happy, you should do it (as long as it's not something destructive).  And you should, but you should also have perspective.  Not everything should be read by others.  Write, if you feel compelled to, but if you have the inkling that your writing doesn't have an absolute redeeming quality (many bestsellers have terrible writing, but an absolutely killer hook), then...keep it to yourself.  I am not insulting you.  But I'm trying to be realistic.

Some people will be insulted by this sentiment no matter what.  As I said, my impression of the community of bloggers I've come to know, and again I don't mean to insult any of you, is that support is a blanket you throw over anything.  You encourage people to read without discrimination, without regard to the quality or intent of the material.  Yes, it's someone's dream, but dreams are sometimes illusions.  Actually, they're always delusions, the mind's way of processing something that otherwise is hard to understand, and the result is just as often equally incomprehensible.  Dreams improve the world, yes, but they can also harm it.

Yes, I just said that.  Eugenics, for instance.  It astonishes me that people still don't get that, even though the Nazis proved how horrible it really is.  There were many people who were never identified as Nazis who fully supported eugenics.  Captain America is a creation of eugenics, and absolutely no one gets that.  Yes, he's an admirable character all told, but the idea of him is absolutely horrifying.  He's the genetic perfection Hitler dreamed of, other than smarting from Germany's thrashing in WWI, his failed art career, being saddled with a stupid mustache, what have you...

And the fact that people on the whole don't get what Captain America ultimately is...This is what I'm talking about.  I'm talking about a perspective that may sound cool to share, but when absolutely no one gets it...I appreciate well-wishers.  I really do.  I'm grateful for everyone who has ever stopped by and enjoyed what I had to say.  But, if no one gets what I'm saying...

So this is a breakup.  I will still post when I release something.  This comes with no expectation for anyone to buy it.  I have not made any sales from this anyway.  Doesn't matter (see above).  This is not about security, and not about the existence or lack of support.  This is about a perspective that really has no room for what this is otherwise intended to be.

One more anecdote, and this time my personal interpretation: Shakespeare today is considered more or less a mythical figure.  Shakespeare is not believed to be Shakespeare.  This idea has always seemed insane to me.  As far as I'm concerned, the historical Shakespeare makes perfect sense.  Here was a guy who found himself in a position to write about his experiences in a context other people understood.  He melded his experiences, his perspective, into a whole tradition, and found favor in the Elizabethan court.  In fact, he connected so well to the Elizabethan era that after it ended, he was probably dismissed as some hack who did nothing but suck up to the prior royal regime.  But then something remarkable happened.  Someone remembered him.  They put together the Folio.  They helped him transcend his time.  His words became preserved, and the more people kept them alive, the more he was recognized for the extraordinary achievement he'd made in his lifetime.  But the fact remains, in his lifetime Shakespeare probably wasn't considered a literary god.  And that's why the historical record of his existence is so spotty.  Because he was just a man.  But a brilliant man all the same.  And it's easier today to recognize that than it was then.

Students find it difficult to read Shakespeare today, but there's no one arguing (loudly) that he's not worth reading, worth preserving.  Melville is recognized, today, for the work that in his day was roundly dismissed.  So, does it matter, what people thought of Shakespeare, how Melville was ruined?  In their lifetime, it absolutely did.  Melville became a night watchman.  The most brilliant writer of his day.  He should have been able to retire comfortably.  And many writers end like that.  Hart Crane committed suicide.  I never forgot that, either.  (Well, maybe, in his case, there were factors involved other than how much people appreciated him.  Writers are above and beyond anything else, capricious creatures.  Don't forget that.)  But for future generations, it doesn't.

We're so often caught up, understandably, in the present, that we forget about tomorrow.  Things change.  Yes, an opinion offered loudly enough and shared enough can leave a pretty convincing impression.  But impressions change, too.

So here's my impression for you, today: Reviews don't matter.  They just don't.  It doesn't matter what you think!  I'm not being rude.  Just finding perspective.  That's the greatest thing anyone could ever find, anyway...
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