For Sale

The focus of my last semester in the MFA program at Simmons College is on preparing us for the ‘real world’ that is, navigating the process of getting published. Which is as it should be, since the Simmons program is highly regarded and has placed many, many graduates in the publishing community as editors, authors, agents, and publicists.

But I find myself, in these classes, getting short tempered and snappy. I would like to have a book contract. (I think.) But if I’m stringently honest, I think what I most want is to be heard.  And that brings up my conflict. I want to be heard, but do I need to be heard? There is a crucial difference here and it is the difference between self-reflection and self-absorption.

Self-reflection is the soft voice of curiosity and wonder––the musings of wanting to understand one’s place in the world. Self-absorption, by contrast, is the loud unceasing voice of need.

When I learn about book trends, and ‘what sells’, I switch from the voice of self-reflection to the voice of self-absorption. I get caught up in the craving—the need––to be heard, and that’s what makes me grumpy.

The world is becoming increasingly noisy, and the ante is being raised. The quiet voice is being replaced by the voice that shocks because that is the one that is heard. Many, if not most of the young adult novels I read for my classes were violent and/or dystopian. As I read, I wondered: are these books reflections of a jaded teen audience, genuinely speaking to their concerns, or are they exploiting the teen marketplace? Because remember, by far and away, authors of YA novels are not teens. They are adults.

I wanted to learn to write to express a creativity in me that tells me it’s time. But after a long day of hearing what sells––of being reminded of the endless American obsession with money––I am weary.

A different reminder (one that is especially poignant in this age of status updates): there’s more to life than selling yourself.

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9 thoughts on “For Sale

  1. I found a lot of common ground in this. I’m at a point in my “creative life” (whatever that means) where I’m trying to keep some ambition, but without the striving and longing that comes with it.

    As for the dystopian teen novels . . . I have a whole theory that I guess I call, “The American Death Cult.” It’s related to the popularity of CSI type shows and to our embracing of redemptive violence. Being entertained by fictional horror makes the real horror of the world more acceptable.

    -ChrisB.

  2. Agreed! My YA is done and I’m frozen in the process. I just would like to crawl into that campah and heat up a can of beans and then play some cribbage. But, instead, I’ll probably obsess over my query letter. Thanks for the zen reminder.

  3. “the world is too much with us, late & soon,
    spending and getting, we lay waste our powers;—
    Little we see in Nature that is ours;
    We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon”
    Wm. Wordsworth

  4. The creative life and business life is a slippery slope. Yes, there are people writing for the market or “what sells” and turn around lots of crappola purely for self-congratulations and money money money. But there are the artists, the true artists, you amongst them, who generate beautiful tales, whether they be scary or hopeful, loud or quiet. The artists are the ones who make children use their critical thinking skills, learn about the wonders of the magic and imagination, question authority, fall in love, and discover the world around them. This is why we write. To be heard. To make our lives have meaning. To leave behind a piece of ourselves.

    And that has monetary value. As much worth as a CEO running a business that promotes consumerism. As much value as the chef who makes our meals at fancy restaurants. As much value as the environmentalist who works hard to keep our planet safe. And that is where the business aspect comes in. The question is: What type of “employee” are you?

    Thank you for this post. 🙂 You are one of the gems in the industry.

  5. Really like what you have to say here. I think so many writers/artists feel the same way, the same conflict between creativity as a way to express ourselves, our inner vision, and creativity as a way to make a living, and how to do both at the same time. I’ve heard over and over again that you can’t write for the market, because (a) it changes so rapidly and bringing a novel to the stage of publication takes so long, and (b) because without that inner fire to write what we are, our deepest perceptions and understanding of life and hopes and dreams, our voice does not resonate and capture the reader. So I think we have to trust that what we write that is our own unique wisdom understanding of the world is what will also capture an audience. And the market is opening up enough now to self-publishing successes, so that even if Market-driven editors and publishers cannot appreciate what we have to offer, we can become our own creative marketeer. Or so I keep telling myself . . . . 🙂

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