I spend a lot of time on Twitter these days.
That statement probably explains my mental decline, at least in part. Twitter is the modern equivalent of the scribblings on seedy bus station toilet stall walls, if most of the patrons were of a political bent. And drunk. Possibly also concussed.
But not everything is centered on the dumpster fire that consumes us in the US.
Last week, an author offered up some advice to aspiring authors. This of course was met with furious opposition, as is everything else posted on Twitter.
At the center of the advice was this — writers should give up their day jobs and be prepared to suffer for their art.
The implication being that you aren’t a ‘true’ artist if you’re not also suffering, with bonus points being awarded for malnutrition and, possibly, having scurvy and rickets.
Now there may be some merit to this advice. Had I, for instance, quit my job twenty years ago, I would probably not tip the scales at 230 pounds today. Of course I might also be dead, but nothing drives sales like being dead.
Or I might have been catapulted into fame and riches, in which case I’d still weigh 230 pounds, but be a lot better dressed. I could also claim to weigh 190 and people would nod and agree, because rich people can get away with anything. They might even pick up the bar tab.
Thus it is proven that Frank is gonna be fat no matter which road he traveled, probably because both roads are lined with restaurants and I’ve never met a steak I didn’t fall in love with.
But would quitting and doing nothing but writing have made me more successful as an author, and thus happier?
There’s simply no way to say yes or no to that question. I might have burned out, gone mad, and been arrested for staging a one-man takeover of a donut shop. Or I might have pitched something to AMC, and people would be complaining about how unwatchable The Markhat Files has become instead of bashing The Walking Dead.
That’s the trouble with big sweeping statements such as ‘All you people, quit work and become scribbling hermits.’ A couple of scribbling hermits might emerge as literary powerhouses. Or they might become that sketchy hairy dude asking for donations outside the Starbucks.
As far as suffering contributing to art — well, just being in the publishing industry right now provides plenty of suffering. Maybe I’m not a genuine artist, because in addition to my failure to own a black beret, I haven’t noticed any improvement in my writing due to abysmal sales, the constant jacking around of authors by Amazon, or having publishers collapse beneath me.
Now, it’s possible that my books just aren’t that good. I’m perfectly willing to entertain that idea, because I recognize the nearly infinite human capacity for self-delusion. If that’s the case, fine. I did my best.
But it’s also possible that a lot of very good books languish in the silent, dark depths because there are so many books now. I’ve lost count of the number of books I’ve read that were exciting, entertaining, fun, and thought-provoking but were also ranked down in the Marinas Trench of Amazon’s vast list of offerings.
P.N. Elrod. Maria Schneider. Elyse Salpeter. And so many others, just waiting to be ‘discovered.’
It’s largely a matter of wild caprice and the whims of luck, I’ve decided. You can quit your day job. You can keep it. You can paint yourself blue and climb to the top of the local courthouse to write. You can blog and pay for ads and pester bookstores for space or signings.
But your efforts can be derailed by some daft butterfly flapping its wings the wrong way somewhere in the tropics, while some other author gets a sweet movie deal because somebody sneezed on a subway at just the right moment.
So I won’t offer any advice, except this — keep writing. It’s advice I struggle to heed lately. But it’s the only advice that might ultimately prove beneficial.
It might also help if you were born on September 21, 1947 as Stephen King. But that is hard advice to follow. My time machines keep exploding.