On writing: Thank you, Ursula

Though the American holiday of Thanksgiving is long past, there’s still a reason for many writers to be thankful, and it has nothing to do with Pilgrims, pumpkin pie, or U.S. history.

It’s a message for struggling writers, especially those dedicated to fantasy, the supernatural, and all related genres.  Next time you feel a pang when you hear that some high school sophomore has had her first book, about young lovers in a war-torn dystopian world, optioned by Paramount after publishing a few chapters on Wattpad … take heart.

Let Ursula Le Guin slap some sense into you with the speech she gave at the recent National Book Awards ceremony.

Neil Gaiman with Ursula Le Guin at the NBAs

Neil Gaiman with Ursula Le Guin at the NBAs.

“Right now, we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art,” she told the audience.  “Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit … is not the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.”

You can read more of her incandescent plea that’s directed at you — yes, at you, my friends  — by following this link to the virtual pages of The Guardian.  It’s not a long piece, but it packs a powerful, inspirational punch.

And when you’re done, I’d ask you to think about that sharp pang of jealousy/frustration that you felt over someone else’s incredible luck.  Why does it bother you so much?

Think about what Le Guin says.  Are you part of someone else’s marketing plan, or are you a writer?

Do you want a big payday from your writing — if you do, why not try something else?  Go into real estate … build a stock portfolio … write a TV sitcom… success is more likely in one of these areas.

As for the rest of us, we embrace the scrivener’s craft, as A.R. Williams nicely puts it in her recent post here at the Call, to find the grace inside the madness.

And when we manage to find it, there’s nothing quite like it in the world.

Onward, my dear friends. Take good care.

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4 responses

  1. Freedom is key, no doubt. Truth-telling, too.And one of the great truths of our time is that the forces arrayed against individual freedom are eating away not only at our culture, but at us, as individuals. All of our social media encourage mindless repetition, not creativity. The writer may be the last defense against all of this.

    It seems to me that many of the myths being propagated among young writers (young in terms of experience, not chronological years) need to be exploded. For example: the myth associated with blogging that says, “Produce! Produce! Post! Produce!” lest you find yourself neglected. I recently went off the grid, for an entire week. No phone, no internet, no television, radio, or newspaper. I left a post saying what I was going to do, and lo! The comments flowed in. I didn’t answer a one of them. But, when I came back and posted again after two weeks, no one had jumped ship.

    I understand that blogging is quite different from writing a book, but there’s no question the freedom Le Guin spoke of was on the minds of my readers. “You can do that?” said one. “Just unplug, and go experience life?” Perhaps that will be the stuff of fantasy in the future — the tale of the odd ones, who cut their techno-cords, and go back to the sheer pleasure of words.

  2. Always a pleasure when you visit, shoreacres. What a lovely comment. It’s encouraging to me, just like Le Guin’s words. Even now, without permanent deadlines hanging over me, I feel compelled to post to make sure readers will stay. But you’re right. It should always be about quality instead of quantity. This holiday season I have some book writing to do that’s going to push me off the grid. Thanks to your great words I won’t feel guilty about it. Thank you my friend!

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