This was inspired by the Eragon posts so I thought I'd start a new topic.
If you had the choice (let's say your fairy godmother came to you, or whatever) to be a great with very limited success (say you published in a small market and never broke into mainstream) OR a decent writer (maybe a little better than Paolini) with huge success (Steven King level), which would you pick?
I know the knee-jerk answer is that you'd rather be the great writer, but think about it a little. Some of you have been at this for a while, and you are probably better than some of the stuff out there. Would you sacrifice a little talent for success? And, why would you make either decision?
As a sidebar, maybe you could list a writer you know of that could have made the deal (giving up a little talent for success). And for this, Paolini doesn't count.
It's my philosophy that every person has a price; it's just that not everyone's price is monetary. I don't know that I would give up skill for success, but I am arguing from a position of relative security: my day job is actually something I'd be happy to do for the rest of my life (to retirement age, anyway), and my history of rejections is pretty small (because my history of submissions is likewise small; I'm rather new at this).
Since I've no reason to rely upon my writing, I suppose my need for success in the field would be purely ego-driven, and I think as a result I would be much happier being proud of what I write, and have limited success, than feel I was succeeding undeservedly.
I know of a writer that I think probably sold more books than her talent gave her any reason to expect (given that having read one of her books, I know I would refuse to ever read another), but I don't know that she counts as mainstream. But I'll not cast her name into the ring; she got published, and congratulations to her for that.
I think I'd rather be a great writer. The other offer is tempting, as you point out, and I'd have a lot more time on my hands to devote to writing. But, given the conditions, I assume my writing can never improve if I choose success, or that my success can never increase if I choose skill.
I therefore choose skill. Because being a "successful" writer has nothing to do with pouring your heart and soul into characters and a world that represent you on many levels. "Success" is about attention and money, neither of which, nor the sum of, are more valuable to me than my dignity, my cathartic experience, and my opportunity to improve ad infinitum.
Heh! I'm going to say, a so-so writer with great success... why? Because being "great" is entirely subjective. As long as I'm happy writing what I'm writing, I really don't care so much what other people think of it. So, I'll go for the money, and let literary critics sort out the rest! Also, being successful doesn't preclude me from trying to improve my writing.
Posts: 2185 | Registered: Aug 2007
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I'm going to rephrase your question, because I don't think it was well-defined to my satisfaction. (Sorry, I'm a scientist. I'm picky.)
Let us presume that I am granted, by nature, genetics, or a fairy-godmother, some set amount of writing skill. I am allowed to choose between Shakespeare-greatness in my genius, with the caveat that nothing I ever write will reach a wide audience. The other option is mediocre writing skill. Nothing genius, but enough to write. (Probably something like the skill I have now, haha). But the caveat with this choice is that my books will become mainstream, bestsellers.
I choose the bestsellers. Let me clarify why.
Even if I fell into such a lifestyle, I still see writing as a secondary profession. I am a scientist at heart. I would never quit that "day-job" regardless of my success in writing, or lack thereof, so it's not about the money. But the point of writing, for me, is to tell a story that people enjoy. If my books are best-sellers, than I would presume that they are bringing some amount of happiness to millions of people, worldwide. In the end, isn't that the point? We all scoff at Eragon (myself included) because the writing is so poor. But really, my main antagonism with Eragon is NOT that people enjoy the book even though the writing is bad. It's that, because of the limited resources of the publishing industry, some books that have even BETTER stories, deeper characters, more originality, etc. are simply not being produced.
So what if my skill sucked. If I could bring a story I cared deeply about to millions of people, and have them share, at least partially, with my devotion to my characters / my world / my story, I think that would bring me far more satisfaction than having a few dozen college professors proclaim my work to be "such genius that no one will ever want to read it, for lack of understanding its genius," or something of the like.
Hmm people seem to be interpreting something different than I did, so now you have to clarify.
By "great" skill do you mean that from the point of view of "the critics?" Because I assumed you meant that in the sense of how great I saw my own writing, and how much I liked it. How proud of it I was, etc.
Because honestly, nobody gives a damn about the critics.
[This message has been edited by Zero (edited November 08, 2007).]
As long as I enjoyed writing it, I am sure I wouldn't worry about the critics. Well, I don't now. How many critics out there (the big NYT ones and such, I mean) rave about the writers of the genre. Darn few. And I don't worry about it.
I have no illusion that I'm a great writer. I'm becoming a competent wordsmith, I think, and I enjoy doing it. That's a lot to have in life and if I can also sell my work and have other people enjoy it that is great icing on my cake. Being a best seller would give me more time to do what I love, so you BET I'd take it.
Achieving Shakespeare-like greatness is so outside anything I aspire to, I have no trouble choosing.
[This message has been edited by JeanneT (edited November 08, 2007).]
Writing and skill: Skill is the level of ability that a writer currently is at. So, if I can be famous with weak skills, then that is the choice, because with hard work and dedication (and a big bank account to live off of), I can get better skills.
If it were all left up to talent, then why do we keep trying? Wouldn't we just all have to give up after the first try and say...nope, we don't have what it takes, so we can go back to writing tv shows. No, we keep trying because when we keep at it we learn more, and when we learn more we do better. So...talent only dictates how much work we have to put in to become good.
I remember reading a writing book once that mentioned the fact that the author knew people who were so naturally gifted they had the ability to write at a level most people could only dream of. None of them have a book on the shelf for us to read. Why? Because to write one took genuine effort that they were not willing to put in. It wasn't that they couldn't, it is that the wouldn't.
Keep the super elite bs for those who don't want to actually write. I'll work my way there, if not, then I don't deserve it.
Good is subjective to the eye of the beholder. You know, if I could get the story down, read it and like it enough to submit it, and get it published, that is good. Maybe it's not greatest, most incredible prose, but there's a multitude of writers out there who don't even achieve publication.
Coming into writing from an artist's perspective, I'm most attracted to work that brings images into focus with a sense of urgency and drama. That's what I read, that's what I want to write. I could care less if citics approve. If the work sells, and I can make a living doing something I love, how is that bad?
Touching lightly on Paolini: for all that I won't purchase any more of his Inheritance Cycle, if others do, that's proof that some people like it and want more. One book didn't sell me on reading, I can't see one turning someone off to reading (other than by that author).
We write for ourselves and our audience, no matter how you look at it. The real question--which will draw a different answer from almost everyone--is: What audience do you wish to write for? Or Which audience are you part of?
You guys are making some assumptions here that seem pretty erronious to me. It seems to be the consensus that these are things (time or skill) that we are given instantly, and then we can still achieve the other in time.
No, these have to be consistently mutually exclusive for this kind of marginal analysis to be meaningful at all.
Assuming this is some kind of short-run decision tree destroys the entire nature of the trade-off, which sabotages the entire question.
If you cannot ever, have both, then we can really focus on which is more valuable. Success without skill--ever, or skill without major success--ever.
Because, otherwise, time and practice will beget skill, but skill and time might not ever beget success. Making success the only reasonable choice, or the "nash equillibrium."
So, my assuming this choice is only a short-run decision we've effectively created a very stupid question.
Both my boys have class six peanut allergies and all that extra cash would mean more funding pouring into The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network. If I had Eragon money, just think how much more I could give to Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation (both my mother-in-law and my mother are breast cancer survivors).
And... hey, on a purely selfish level: I'd love to be able to go back to Lucerne, Switzerland someday, to afford a new laptop...
I'm all for marketability and economic security. I'd take the money.
The only exception to that might be my ego, if I new I was a schlock writer, I'd feel bad about my successs, I'd feel bad as I cashed the checks and watched my 72" wall TV, I'd feel bad as my driver took me to my next signing.
I am a schlock writer and likely always will be. I will take the money. I will write anyway, but would like to be more comfortable doing it. Give me the success.
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Wow I'm pretty surprised. You all make perfectly good arguments, etc. But I'm surprised so many would be willing to cheapen the art to fatten their wallets.
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I'm greedy. I wanted both good and successful. But I'm in a situation where I probably won't need any money writing could bring me to live off of (barring any number of catastrophes, though), so I'll concentrate on the good and worry about the successful afterwards.
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quote:Making success the only reasonable choice, or the "nash equillibrium."
quote:But I'm surprised so many would be willing to cheapen the art to fatten their wallets.
It seems strange that you question the result, zero, when you so cleverly analyzed the question's merits in the first place.
I am a psychiatric nurse. I get paid for doing my job which at times I enjoy, but also at times dislike. Doing my job for money doesn't cheapen what I do. Writing and obtaining success would not cheapen my art -- the books may not be great, but they would be the very best I could do.
I think a better question would be if someone paid you ten million dollars/pounds to NEVER WRITE AGAIN, would you agree to it?
quote:Honestly, I want to have an impact, change the way people see things, help kids dream (YA sci-fi is my current interest) and share my ideas. == I can't have an impact and reach a lot of people if the only ones who see my work are my biographer 20 years after my death, and my long-suffering husband. Success = LOTS OF PEOPLE READING.
I write for most of the same reasons that KayTi writes. I want to impact how people see things and a help them dream. I can't do that if people don't read my books. If it was a choice between big bucks (for instance, a big advance) or a large readership (regardless of money made), I'd pick the large readership. I don't care how many critics think my writing is good as long as my writing is getting done the job I want done.
quote:It seems strange that you question the result, zero, when you so cleverly analyzed the question's merits in the first place.
True. You make a good point. But the reason for that is that the question is utterly useless because everyone is assuming they aren't limited to one or the other. And once they aren't mutually exclusive no useful comparison can be made. The choice is obvious.
But, judging from the volume of responses of people who automatically chose success and did not mention any interest in perfecting their craft afterwards, that is what surprised me. It seems people would rather be heard than have their message mean anything. To my eyes that lacks dignity.
quote:I am a psychiatric nurse. I get paid for doing my job which at times I enjoy, but also at times dislike. Doing my job for money doesn't cheapen what I do.
Ah a misconception! Your example isn't a properly fitted analogy let me adjust it,
What if I told you you had to choose between being a great psychiatric nurse and make a huge difference for your patients but you only ever have a handful. Or else I offer you 10 Million dollars and all the patients you could ever hope for, on the condition that you do terrible work and you aren't capable of being a good psychiatric nurse.
If you take the money you cheapen what you do, but if you don't you limit the people you have access to you. I think taking the money is not the dignified choice. I think the other option preserves the integrity of what your work is trying to achieve, what it means, and the other is just cheap and meaningless.
quote:I think a better question would be if someone paid you ten million dollars/pounds to NEVER WRITE AGAIN, would you agree to it?
[This message has been edited by Zero (edited November 09, 2007).]
I'm a little surprised about the responses. I figured most of us here would be purists and say they would want stellar quality and screw the success. It seems most, though, would like success as long as their writing was okay. (And that was the general gist of the question: Stellar success with okay writing, or stellar writing with little or no success.)
I didn't really think of anything else in posing the question than the success Paolini has had with crappy writing. But looking at it again, there are writers I really like whose writing is sometimes lacking. Jim Butcher is one of them. He makes errors, sometimes his sentences and comma use bother me. Sometimes his characters ramble. But most of the time I can't wait to read what's next. So, to me, that's the kind of writer I'd like to be. Sure, he makes mistakes and his style can be off, but he writes a darn good book that I have a hard time putting down. If we entertain our audience we don't need to be a Shakespeare. Why not be like Mozart? At the time I think the higher class found his work trivial, but he wrote for the masses, and the masses still love him.
So, to answer the question I posed, I'd go for success because I'd rather entertain people. And sure, skill should improve over time, but even if my writing never becomes stellar, that's okay. Because I got into this to have fun.
quote:It seems people would rather be heard than have their message mean anything.
Who said you have to be a "great writer" to have your message mean anything? In fact, I have always felt that the great writers tend to worry less about some hidden meaning that hacks. And if no one READS your work, what does all that "great meaning" have to do with anything?
Sorry, but I would find having the money to do what I love doing and being able to actually share it with many other people to be pretty damn satisfying.
JeanneT, we've devalued the entire comparison because we've basically made a major assumption 1. Greatness, in this case is relative.
By that definition greatness is meaningless, but money isn't. Money retains its value and it is understood universally. So, given that assumption, success is the only good answer.
So I'm going to repair matt's comparison by turning it into a useful one.
Case 1: You never publish ever. But your work is truly skillful, and you smile every time you read it. You share it with close relatives and friends who enjoy it, but you never break into the writing industry ever. But the time you spend writing is purely enjoyable and the characters and worlds you come up with have realistic depth and launch you into the nether-regions of your mind and the very limits of your imagination. But again you never get into print, not even a webzine, and many of your relatives think you're wasting your time because you will never earn a cent. Not one cent.
Case 2: Your writing is wildly successful. You've sold 150 million copies worldwide, predominantly to millions of tv-addicted teens. You're making money and people know your name. You can google it and a hundred thousand results pop up, many-many of which are negative and critical, however. Also your writing is literally god-awful. It's seriously bad. Every time you look at it you instantly see errors and profound mistakes, and things that could have been much, much better. And you cannot connect with your work cathartically, and you cannot improve ever. And you never tire of hating to read it because you hate your writing so much.
This is a true trade-off with set costs and conditions, making it a much more interesting/useful question. If one choice is obviously superior, or the costs aren't clear and/or consistent, then any comparison is completely pointless.
Again I think there are advantages to both and a 50/50 response designation should reflect if the trade-off is truly even.
I am still sticking with Case 1 for myself.
[This message has been edited by Zero (edited November 09, 2007).]
My problem is that if you are capable of seeing your errors then you would be capable of improving your writing. So I just can't connect with your scenarios. If I couldn't see what was wrong with it but was upset because everyone and their brother said it sucked (think Paolini) how would I feel?
I don't know. I think I might still would be happy--he seems to be--because I wouldn't know the difference.
But if I could SEE the errors then I could at least edit them out the next time I wrote something even if I couldn't avoid them in the first place. I guess I have a hard time visualizing what you're saying. I know I'm ruining your scenarios, but there it is. My mind boggles.
[This message has been edited by JeanneT (edited November 09, 2007).]
Have you ever looked at something (like a smoking engine, for example) and known something was wrong, but not how to fix it? Or have you ever read a page of your prose and realized it was garbage but the more you edited it, the worse it seemed to get?
This is the kind of thing I'm talking about. And for the sake of an objectively consistent trade-off you cannot be allowed to improve in Case 2, just the same as you cannot be allowed to publish in Case 1. Just for the fact that letting these merge ruins the entire thing.
And remember the key isn't just that other people think it sucks, you know it sucks too. In fact, you hate it more than anybody else, and that says a lot. Because we've already established that if you like your work then this is again a moot discussion. I'm only trying to keep the controls on it so it's actually useful.
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Ok, if I could only write for no one to read, then, no, I wouldn't write. I don't understand the Emily Dickinson mentality (has nothing to do with enjoyment of her poetry). I write very much with the hope of being read. When I am read by even a few people who enjoy it, that means more than I can even tell you. So if I were going to be denied that, sure I'd sell out. Why not?
I don't think there is any mention that I have to KEEP writing. I walk away (as a number of writers have) and take my money with me. I don't write to stick my prose in a trunk somewhere.
But I don't think you'll like this answer any better. Sorry.
Thank you, HuntGod. Now if you'll just send that notification to the agents I have queries out to so they'll all offer me a contract, I'd much appreciate it.
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I guess another reason that I said I'd take success is that I have more a Dickensian/Shakespearian approach to writing: My goal is to entertain. That can mean making people laugh, cry, afraid, you name it, but I am not writing to alter anyone's mindset, political views, religion, etc.
If my work continues to entertain people long after I am dead, so much the better, but it will having little bearing on me. I won't be here anymore.
The other reason I write is that I have to write. I cannot stop. If I don't write then I can't get even the small amount of sleep each night that I currently enjoy. I'm not sure if that makes sense to anyone or not, bu there you go.
In this scenario, I would still entertain, but I would never reach a lofty height of critical acclaim. I would entertain millions of people and make tons of money. My peers would not respect my work. I would not respect my work as literature, but I would still have achieved my goal and more than that, I would be able to support my family in a grand manner while doing what I love.
JeanneT, not all good critics are good writers. You don't have to be able to write well to know what's wrong and what could be fixed.
I think I'd choose to be a skillful writer. Although I would like to be published, that's not and never has been my goal. (Although selling enough so that I have the free cash to get my laptop fixed would be nice...) I just want to be publishable. If it takes all my life to get there, then so be it. I write for love of the craft, to create worlds and to invent stories about my characters set in those worlds. And if the only people who ever read it are my friends and family - and if they like it - then that's good enough for me. (It's not stopping me from writing short stories and submitting them to magazines though.) It's really not a difficult choice for me.
Now the $1m to never write again.... that one's a tricky one. I spent a good long while thinking that over. Just think of all the video games I could waste my time and money on! But still, I'd choose writing. I'm miserable without the outlet storytelling gives me. It's as much a part of me as my brown hair and squinty eyes and love of Renaissance clothing. I don't think I could bear to be me minus the writer aspect of myself.
The smoke spewed out of the old lamp, which Christopher hurriedly threw on the floor in surprise. As the smoke cleared a figure stood there, seven foot tall, arms crossed. "I am The Genie of the Lamp, you have three wishes -- what are do you want? You'll have to speak up -," the figure boomed, "- I am a little deaf." Christopher Paolini scratched his head as he thought about it. "Well, Genie, a three-book deal would be great." "Yup" "And, Genie, I would like them all to be made into films." "Yeah, got that," the Genie said making a note. "And, Genie, I want to be a great success." The genie looked up at Christopher with a frown. "Was that success in the eyes of your peers, or financial success?" The Genie lifted an eyebrow. "Cos thatís two wishes really." Unsure which to pick, Paolini turned and shouted, "Mummy?" "Money it is, then," the Genie said and granted the wishes.
[This message has been edited by skadder (edited November 10, 2007).]
The wizard gave the king a choice. He can have widsom, or money. The king asked for wisdom. He then realized he should have asked for the money.
I write brilliant crap. I write because I love it. It is something fun to do while the TV is on. There is a bit of excitement to seeing what comes out of my keyboard and onto the screen (I did a story idea recently about a guy who's keyboard was evil, and wrote what it wanted to say about what he was typing). I have imaginative concepts, and can take translate those concept to paper fairly well. They are even readable. My actual writing skills are not up to publication levels. I have bad habits in things such as sentance structure, syntax, word choices, vocabulary, and am not likely to improve. I am too busy telling the stories to take the time to improve the machanics.
I write more on the idea of a columnist, where one has to get a piece out each and every day for the paper with deadlines, and not have time to concentrate on the quality. I am improving on the mechanics of production, of the art of writing, but not the quality.
I work from the concept that anybody with language skills can edit a work to publishable levels. Only the author can actually write the story. My works might end up beping publishes postumously because I am too busy to edit them to publishable levels.
OK I accept all of those answers. They're good, I just wanted the conditions to be consistent.
JFLewis, the downside, I think, is the lack of pride in your own work. You might have pride that you are entertaining so many people, but remember one of the conditions is that you are deeply, profoundly unimpressed with your work. Borderline ashamed of it.
As for the genie, for some reason whenever genies seem to appear they seem to always forbid the wishing for more wishes. But I've never seen any reason why I can't wish for more genies.
I do alot of things that I'm ashamed off that don't make me any richer...so I still go with success and the money to salve my damaged conscious :-) Posts: 552 | Registered: Dec 2004
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How is that any different than my current position as a coporate stooge/lackey/schmoe, Zero?
Well, okay, other than the fact that I'd be making a significanty larger sum of money, doing what I'd always wanted to do for a living (even though I'd feel my success undeserved and have a bit of confusion about why people actually liked my stuff), and actually accomplish my goal of entertaining people.
Even if, like one author I met at a convention recently, I wrote highly feteishistic lesbian porn of which I myself was somewhat ashamed, but which a steadliy increasing number of fans truly enjoyed and were moved by... I think I'd have to take the advice Maggie Shayne gave to that author...
Quoth Maggis Shayne: "I want you to stand up and be proud of your porn!"
I think I would be able to do that.
[This message has been edited by JFLewis (edited November 11, 2007).]
So, you're telling me that if enough people like something you'll be persuaded to like it also?
I reject that line of thinking. Remember my conditions were that you were perpetually ashamed of your work, and you could never improve. Quit trying to wiggle out of those conditions. Once you wiggle free from the costs and can see only the benefits the entire exercise is wasted.
Well Zero that actually opens the argument of subjective reality versus an absolute reality.
If you believe in a subjective reality then yes if enough people believe something then you are likely to, despite maybe an initial objection, in time agree with the majority.
I know that I have in my experience had films or novels that I initially disliked and through peer pressure/commentary, changed my opinion of said film or movie.
Now in my instances it was simply that they, through persuasion, had me reexamine my initial opinion and look at the work in a different manner. But often, for the sheeple of the world, the mob approval is sufficient to assure there endorsement.
If you are fortunate enough to have a job or lifestyle that allows you to make decisions purely on the merit of ascetics rahter than factoring in real world variable like food and rent, then more power to you. We always need a few more pretentious critics :-)
If on the other hand you live with the rest of us shlobs, well do you really care if your work is good, so long as your supervisor is happy with it and you get paid? Your personal satisfaction is a caveat not an essential.
No, what I'm saying is that for me the benefit would make-up for the lack of... let's call it job satisfaction. I already have zero job satisfaction in my day job. We are talking about no change in satisfaction level, but a geometric increae in benefits.
I'm too proud of a man to accept either. I'd tell that fairy godmother to go work on college funds for my kids; I'll take the shot at being great and successful alone.
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