Again serendipity strikes.
I was mulling this post over in my head before committing it to the keyboard when I read Nicola Morgan's latest blog-post. Please read it first and when you're over your total exhaustion at the enormity of all she does, come back here. As well as demonstrating a devotion to her art I could never aspire to, Nicola's post also shows that the actual task of writing is so easily sidelined today.
Taking a leap sideways here, it is also an example of something that I have become increasingly aware of since I began writing--although this is not what Nicola is actually addressing here--that today, more than at any other time it seems, the writer is more interesting to agents, publishers and the wider world than what they write. When we submit a novel, a collection of short stories or a memoir--whatever it is, we are asked about our social networking skills. Are we on Twitter and Facebook? Do we have a blog or a website? Can we organise our own publicity? Can we stand up in front of an audience and entertain as well as sell? Do we have a fascinating life-story to tell? Did we overcome misfortune, illness or trauma to write? Did we go to school with/date/marry or kill someone famous? Did we once struggle bringing up twins alone in the Amazon jungle? Did we once work as a lap-dancer before becoming am Anglican vicar? Okay, so I'm exaggerating but you get the idea. If you have done something out of the ordinary, even if it has nothing do do with your writing, then you're worth publishing. In other words, hang the writing.
We've all come across such writers in the media. They look wonderful--not necessarily with film star looks--but have a bubbling engaging people-pleasing personality. The idea is that their social skills will sell books. Who cares if the writing is okay but a bit, well,ordinary? Personality is everything. So...sell, sell, sell.
But statistics show that, on the whole, writers are introverts, happy in their own company; thinkers, observers on the sidelines of life, looking underneath the surface of those around them. They are prone to melancholy and are more comfortable putting their thoughts into words than expressing them in public. Perhaps I am speaking for myself because I am not, on the face of it, a very interesting person. I'm okay. I don't frighten the horses. I don't have more than the usual bad habits. But I don't shine in company. I'd rather hide behind the pot-plants at a cocktail party and observe others than hold centre-stage. I would love everyone to read what I write but I am otherwise shy of the spotlight.
Maybe I'm naive and old-fashioned which is also why I am wary of self-publishing. That, too, puts the emphasis on how good the writer is at selling and self-promotion rather than the quality of what he or she writes. Most of the writers I enjoy reading are not well-known as people. For example I am currently reading By Battersea Bridge by Janet Davey. I have already read two of hers (English Correspondence and The Taxi Queue) and was bowled over by both. And yet I know nothing about her as a person. She may well have abseiled down the Empire State Building or breeds alligators in Surbiton for all I know. A quick Google check tells me little. I can't find a website or a blog or a Twitter or Facebook account. And I don't care. It's her writing I love, not her. Of course, she is a brilliant talented novelist who doesn't need to 'put herself out there'. Her writing speaks for herself. But what about the rest of us: writers like me who write well enough (I hope) but no better than most others? Do we really have to tap-dance on elephants while singing Nessun Dorma? Do we have to stand on a soap-box in Speaker's Corner or its digital age equivalent and show everyone how fabulous we are? Isn't it enough that we write?
Increasingly, it would seem, it's not.