Monday, April 2, 2012

Complications and a Defense

This past week has been completely insane. There were good points - like General Conference - and some bad ones - like not getting into my top-choice grad school. That last bit is causing some of the complications alluded to in the title of this post, since now I have to readjust my plans for the future. I may have to get a real job that I don't like. I don't know what I'm going to do just yet. Another complication is in my writing/publishing efforts. I just heard back from a publisher who wants the rest of my book but also wants exclusivity while they make their decision. That is exciting, but makes my life kind of difficult. Everywhere I look people advise against exclusivity agreements, but if I don't agree I might lose my chance to get published. I guess this is what being a grown-up is about.

One thing that kind of irks me about being a writer is the constant need to defend myself and what I do. Some people criticize studying English as the fast track to working at Burger King forever, and I once had someone tell me, "I heard you're smart. Shouldn't you be doing something better for the world than writing?" Others, more well-meaning, say, "Writing is a great hobby. But wouldn't you be happier if you just wrote for yourself? You wouldn't have to worry about publishing."

Naturally, I respond to these by putting together my defense of writing. I will first address the last comment, which bugs me the most because in some ways, they have a point. Writing, unlike teaching or public speaking, is something you can do in a closet and never let anyone see. I could potentially write for myself. But that's like baking a cake and then throwing it away before anyone can taste it. A writer may enjoy creating the book, but she cannot appreciate her own work like a fresh reader can. She already knows how it ends and can only see flaws and word patterns. I don't agree with Jean-Paul Sartre on most things, but in his ideas on reading and writing I agree. The story is created in the reader's mind. While I could write "for myself", my books would never reach their full potential.

Also, it bugs me that only artists are encouraged to work "for themselves". No one tells an accountant to work "for himself", or a teacher or politician or surgeon or computer programmer. These workers all have skills that society demands be used to serve itself. Otherwise they're being selfish. So I wonder: why is a talent in art so much less valuable than a talent with numbers or people?

When a conquering nation wants to completely take over the minds of the people, they destroy that weaker nation's art. Particularly, they burn books. This is why I'm opposed to book burning, although I agree that parents should monitor what children read. Books are some of the most dangerous things because they hold hundreds and hundreds of ideas. So in response to the argument that a smart person would use her talents doing something other than writing, I say that spreading ideas and, I hope, encouragement is the best way I can use my talents. As long as society doesn't relegate my work to the land of the useless hobbies.

Yes, I have an axe to grind. I'm sick of feeling like I lack something because I am an artist and not studying business. I think some people have a talent for business and that is good and builds society. But I have a talent in writing that is worth just as much as another's talent, and I can use it to build society. Just give me a pen and let me go.

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