September 18, 2008

The Restless Appetite For Applause

I am El Presidente of the Kwantlen Writers' Guild. All bow to my ineffable wisdom. *scoff* The truth is I'm not sure I'm the right guy for the job. My cynicism prevents me from jumping on board with every supposed grand idea.

The Guild:

The Good - a place to revel amongst peers, share ideas, crack wise, come up with plans for fund raising. There will be a publication and a contest and a reading. That sort of thing. Needless to say, all this could be done via email, but heaven forbid we miss out on an opportunity to sit in a circle and gaze at each other. Most valuable achievement during the meeting: agreeing that Touch Me is an absolute crap title for the publication.

The Not So Good - Realizing that most people who submit their work are looking for affirmation instead of ways to improve. One first-year student and the rest are third and fourth years, with looks in their eyes--I dare you to find something wrong with this poem or short story or whatever. And if you do find something wrong, know this: I will hunt through your own work and come up with something horrible to say in return. I suppose affirmation is good, but it feels really disingenuous in this setting, where legs bob up and down as each person anxiously awaits "their turn".

In class today, not part of the guild but still related to Kwantlen, a mature student shared with me that last semester a professor asked them to re-submit a different story because their current one was perfect--no room for improvement or revision. Not sure why I was told this, or if I even believe such a thing. But what motivates a person to make such comments about themselves? Part ego, sure. I suspect fear, too. I could have clapped said student on the back, cajoled him/her with soothing wow, you are such a great writer and we could all really learn from you. Instead I envisioned this person sending said "perfect story" off to The Malahat Review and nine months later receiving a letter suggesting they take some Creative Writing courses.

Sometimes I don't want to be all-inclusive with my writing. I don't want to share it with everyone--just certain people who I know will make objective, unmotivated, honest comments. Sometimes I don't want to hug everyone and say we can do it. Everyone will get published and we'll all live in a castle far away, sipping hot-spiced rum and laughing at the world toiling below us.

The truth is no one has to read your work. Convincing people to actually want to read what you've got requires playing a game of whoredom. Writing is solitary. Success is infrequent. Perfection is a useless ascription because it denotes a peak, the very best you can ever do. Everything after that is sub par. I want agony, anger, the constant ache to create something of value--to anyone. I want success, perhaps before other people around me.


sam said...

Harry, my respect for you has gone up immensely for posting this.

Talking about writing is not the same as writing. Writing is hard. Most people expect it to be easy because they're used to having shit handed to them, but it really comes down to you going off to your room/desk/cell/hole in the ground and getting it done. And I find that talking about it uses up some of the same juice.

it's amazing how many people feel threatened by others' success. Their identity is so tied to the concept of being The Writer that they can't admit that it's a big playing field and there's room for everyone, that Hemingway and Mary Shelley and Elmore Leonard are all valid. Your success does not inhibit mine, and vice versa.

What always bothered me was not the lack of talent, but of commitment. Some people seem way too proud way too soon, and it's hard to be the one who says, well, couldn't you make this a little better?

Hopefully the guild will drive you that much harder, and the chumps will fall by the wayside. I really hope to see your novel soon. Even if you are a closet elitest.

Harry Tournemille said...

Yessir. Thanks. What's getting my goat right now is the fact that my writing will suffer from being in the Guild. What sad irony that is.

Sam said...

If that's true, I suggest you bail. That or host it at a strip bar, thereby driving out all women and homosexuals...leaving you with a guild of one.