In the week that's been of author rants and tantrums, the inter-waves have been spitting with contention and outrage. I'm not going to weigh in as far as behavior goes, but it did bring up something I have perspective on. That is this idea that writing for money is selling out. You see during the day I'm a graphic artist—a commercial graphic artist. Holy crap, I just identified myself as the very definition of a sell-out! I get paid to do art!
People either seem to have a completely cynical or totally romantic idea about this. Let me summarize the contentious views storming up the blog-asphere.
An author said something along the lines of; 'If you want to make money from writing you have to feed the machine and write whatever crap people are buying'
and the responses/antidotes to this from writers went something like; 'Writing is art. I never compromise my art by writing to make other people happy, I stay true to myself and only write what I believe in.'
In my humble opinion there is both a grain of wisdom and a bucket of ignorance in both statements. Writers must consider and respect readers! People who truly write for themselves do so in journals—they don't try to be published.
Now, now I hear that gun cocking, let me elaborate. What I mean is that very few people actually write so that they can pour over the brilliance of their 'masterpiece' alone. Most people want their writing to resonate with readers. Most writers if they are honest with themselves (even if they write because they need to, because they love it, not to make cash), ultimately crave a readers enjoyment and...sales.
But does writing for a reader (or for a market) mean selling out?
No, artists have a right to try to make a living. That means working for other people. Take Paul Rand the graphic designer I studied in art school. Was he a sellout because he designed for multinational companies? Should he have been sketching away in his basement? Created art that fulfilled only his own imagination? No way. He set a standard in commercial art. He gifted the industry with his designs. Designs that had purpose. But even though he designed for commercial business and not himself, his personal imprint is evident in each of his designs—he stayed true to himself. Never tried to be anybody else.
A brilliant writer considers the reader in each line of prose. What to leave in, what to leave out, how to hook them, keep them, how to make every sentence thrill, intrigue, titillate. What kind of writer does not strive for this? For any published writer to claim they write only for themselves would mean they don't do these things—and that's ludicrous!
The work is the writers gift to the reader. It's art with purpose. It's what I do when I design a logo, or a website for a client. The selling-out comes into it when a artist creates something they don't believe in or respect, for money. That's a problem and the one that's gotten under people's skin. The writer I mentioned created something she believed unworthy. Writing to a 'brief' or an 'audience' does not mean turning out something you feel is rubbish.
A 'masterpiece' literary or otherwise, is something that marries the desires of the consumer with the vision of the artist—and resonates with both. Let me tell you I don't spit out soulless corporate websites so occasionally I can do an interesting one. I'm proud to put my name to everything I do. Because even when I fulfill a brief that centers around something I find mundane, my mission is to give it my own creative vision. That's what a brilliant writer does, that's what a successful commercial writer does.
Writing novels is a commercial art, not a self indulgence. It's not about jumping on the back of a trend, it's about looking at what you're writing and who you're writing for. I know some of you will find this offensive. I'm sorry. But when someone intends to accept money from a reader they must accept that they are working for them. Sometimes artists have to compromise parts of their precious babies because it doesn't meet the 'brief'. I do all the time. Sometimes we can push the envelope and bust open a convention. But no matter what an author does—they should be doing it for the reader.