Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Out of my League: discussing practicality

“..go on and send this one out..I am not so sure that any place will take it..however, the purpose of sending it around would be to show various people that you CAN write stories. After reading this they will remember you and be interested in the next one. Somebody might even take it.”
    ~Flannery O Connor

“fewer people possess the combination of determination, skill and lucky timing to sell their attempts (and that's the problem that'll get me, if anything does.)”

Both Jenna and Christie (of Spinning Straw into Gold) inspired this - more practical turn in the discussion. How do we meld the practical side of making art with the creative side? Do you think about audience, about saleability, about all the non-artistic aspects of writing, or do you just write and hope for the best? I really only consider it when I’m writing particularly for money - trying to sell a magazine article or something like that. When I’m working on something more creative I tend to ignore thoughts of audience and sale - which is one reason my poems are in a perpetual state of rewriting.

I don’t have a practical mind. I’m working on it, really, I am. But I don’t have one. That doesn’t mean I can’t be practical, can’t attend to the details necessary to write for a sale, it just isn’t natural to me. I’m impressed with writers like O’ Connor, who write artistically and know how to market those stories - especially when, as with Flannery, they fall outside the norm. So, I don’t have much to say in this post, but I feel it’s important to discuss, because whether I like it or not, the ability to sell writing is an important aspect of the writer’s life. Do you carve out a special time for this aspect of writing - say, Wednesdays afternoons to research and marketing? Do you wait for inspiration to strike? Do you dream of something working out without any effort on your part (as I do more often than not)?


  1. At the moment I'm pretty much just writing for myself and my own amusement, though I admit that I have rather 'commercial' tastes (i.e. I actually like the kinds of stories that are a little more sellable).

    That said, I remember a very useful C.S. Lewis quote on the subject:

    "When an artist is in the strict sense working, he of course takes into account the existing taste, interests, and capacity of his audience. These, no less than the language, the marble, or the paint, are part of his raw material; to be used, tamed, sublimated, not ignored or nor defied. "

    It makes me wonder; is art better, more 'pure' for the fact that it isn't written for the sake of anyone but the author, or is the so-called practical side actually an element in artistic creation?

    Hope that doesn't sound like criticism: I honestly would like to hear your opinion.

  2. Thanks for the plug!

    As I've started to research and look more and more into what it takes to make a living as a writer, I've been disheartened to find that the writing lifestyle is as much about marketing, accounting, and small business skill as it is about putting beautiful and meaningful words on paper. What happened to the good old days when all a writer had to do was be creative?

    At the risk of sounding like a literary elitist, I guess we've come so far from when Milton composed verses in memory to now when every Jack and Jill owns a lap top. And perhaps that means publishers have to spend a lot more time filtering through what's good and what's not?

    @ BTanaka -- that's something I often wonder myself. It's interesting to hear C.S. Lewis's take on it (and I remember someone else's quote saying a story wasn't complete without a reader), and then, by contrast, we have Tolkien, who created his entire world and mythos for his own private pleasure.

  3. Great, and difficult, questions. btanaka and Christie, I appreciate your thoughts, too. Wound up referencing both of your comments in my response post. :)

    I wish I carved out time specifically for this aspect, but haven't been that organized yet. After about three years of reading publishing industry blogs, I have reasonable general ideas of what to do and what not to do, but it's hard to put into practice, and I overthink it terribly.

    Right now, I'm enjoying the fact that revisions have forced me to hold off on submissions a bit longer. But I won't be able to keep waiting... should probably plan my attack now. :)