Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Modest Writer

Rewards & Recognitions

Of all the professions available to humans, writing is one of the most peculiar. Writers spend an inordinate amount of time in front of their keyboards. Alone. Secluded. Solitary figures bringing forth ideas and stories. And yet the majority of writers—myself included—want not only their articles and ideas to be read, but also to be recognized by the public and critics as notable and worthy.  An article, by Philip Lopate, in The New York Times expresses this idea in a very modest way.

Loparte, himself an author, writes:
There is nothing more becoming in an author than modesty. Regardless of what egotistic airs they may put on, most writers, I suspect, have a fairly accurate assessment of their own worth and achievement. Still, they — we — are dependent to an uncomfortable extent on the world’s judgment, perhaps hoping that by some fluke the world will rate us higher than we rate ourselves. The problem is not that the world so often ignores literary effort (though that is certainly the case), but that to the degree it breaks its silence it tends to distribute the rewards in a mystifyingly erratic manner.
There seems to be no logical pattern in the honors, fellowships and glowing reviews it bestows or does not bestow on writers who have achieved a respectable level of professionalism. Why should Writer X get so much attention, when the equally accomplished Writer Y gets next to none? Writer Z must try to make sense of the clashing kudos and snubs she has received, the flatteries and cold rejections, when underneath it all lies the suspicion there is no sense to be made.
To a great degree this is true; many experienced writers are talented, able to convey their ideas and stories in imaginative and compelling ways. And, yet, only a small percentage receive recognition and awards from both the general public and critics; an even smaller percentage become part of the canon of books that represent a nation’s culture of ideas. In the U.S., authors such as Hemingway, Faulkner and Bellow continue to be read and studied by students in universities, as much as newer writers have taken their place among the popular ones.

Most writers, however, are ignored, unheralded by the public and often by their peers; this alone would bring about the modesty that many writers wear. It is said that everyone has a story to tell, that within him resides a novel. Perhaps so, but most remain unpublished, unknown, even if some opt to take the route of self-publishing. Not all stories are interesting enough to sufficiently capture people’s attention, and, moreover, the public can be a harsh judge.

I agree with Lopate that writers ought not give too much thought on why some writers and their works capture the public’s interest and others, equally gifted, do not. It’s not as if writing is a science, one that follows a mathematical equation or algorithm; the tastes of the public are random, and good luck often comes into play. Most writers, however, continue writing, putting their figurative heads down; this is what they most enjoy and do best.

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You can read the rest of the article at [NYT]

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