Friday, November 5, 2010

The Reader and Distraction

Some serious writing about writing, coming your way.

The Reader, from the 2010 Emerging Writers Festival (EWF), will be launched very soon.  From the EWF website:
The Reader brings together ideas and insights into the craft, philosophy and politics of being a writer. It’s about writing and everything that comes with that: editing and publishing, motivation and distraction, the missed opportunities and the poetics of failure. With articles, essays, poems, fiction and artworks, The Reader blurs the lines between the creative and the critical, ultimately asking, what is it to be a writer?
I was asked to write short essay on distraction and writing. What distracts us from putting pen to paper, and being read?  And what virtues help us avoid distraction? A sample:
Pride is important for writers, particularly in a world fed and grown on hype, spin and bollocks. Pride allows us to talk about our achievements, virtues and ambitions: books we’ve written, skills we’ve learned, our hopes for the written word. But we need not conceitedly praise ourselves at every opportunity, or submit to every single chance to plug our book, columns and blogs.
Both extremes are wellsprings of distraction from writing. Vanity is the most obvious threat. The publicity machine can be rapacious and unfeeling. Whether it’s radio, television or the newspapers, many will happily use you to fill five minutes or half as many column inches. They will let you make an arse of yourself. Without pride, it’s easy to end up like Ernest ‘Papa’ Hemingway: polishing our façade rather than our prose; boasting, bragging, bullshitting. This can be a disaster for the literary life as writing loses its honesty: it becomes about packing papier-mâché onto a thick mask instead of putting true words on paper.
But lowliness can be equally diverting. We write because we recognise our virtues: talents, insights and impressions. To make a career out of literature, we have to publicise these. Why? Because nowadays a book is published every few seconds. Even after we include differences in genre, language, country and style, it’s still clear: there are thousands of authors competing for our audience. Do I want my work to be read, or someone else’s? If the former, I have to get used to selling myself. Not vulgarly, with braggadocio, but certainly with a keen eye for my own virtues. Otherwise, we can get lost in the fantasy of our own precious, rare authenticity. This Romantic myth of the pure, humble author is a distraction from the serious business of being a professional wordsmith. It is as conceited as the shameless self-promoter, and both take us away from the job of writing for readers.

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