In all the author evenings I attended for the PEN USA EV Fellowship, the idea that now more than ever the impetus is on the writer to promote their book through blogging, or tweeting, or whoring of some nature, has come up time and time again.
The idea of hustling your book feels desperate, cheap. If I were truly the writer I think I am, then shouldn't I be able to sell my book based on the merit of its writing? And more importantly, if I were a real artist, the accolades or success shouldn't matter.
They are diametrically opposed forces. The need to write, to be an artist true to oneself and the success needed to sustain your ability to write. If I'm being honest, there is also the sliver (or slice, depending) of ego that craves the fame and fortune of a successful book. In order to be a writer you have to have some ego, and mere existence of that ego means the desire for acclaim. But, if the writer is by nature a creature of ego, then it is also a creature of insecurity. Pride and fear makes the hustle feel like a necessity born from desperation.
Hustling doesn't start when you write a book, it begins when you start to take yourself seriously as a writer. You're encouraged to go to readings, attend conferences and workshops, make contacts! Contacts will help you get published! Contacts will help you get an agent. I've seen people gain success through these methods but I can't stifle this feeling that success gained this way is ill-gotten. It suggests an achievement won on the back of who you know, not what you wrote.
But it is still success--if the end result is the same, does it matter how you get there? The answer seems to me that if it matters to you, then it matters. And those people who achieved the goal you're aspiring to, still have to write a book. And if they're going to see any type of acclaim or success they have to write a good book (one would hope).
Would the literary greats tweet? Or have a blog? Who knows. What I do know is that the true artists can get away with not doing it, and that idea has stuck with me. One author said that tweeting felt like giving away some of yourself for free. Does it take away from the stores of creativity you have? As if creativity were some pool that could some day dry up.
The people who tweet well seem to have overcome any insecurity that might give them pause before sharing their thoughts or personal details. I have trouble publishing anything into perpetuity (or as long as a tweet lives) that I might regret or feel stupid for writing. I'm not a good enough writer to embue all of my intent in so few words--but I still try, and you can follow me @krisserin (see what i did there?). It's basically this feeling, expressed perfectly by Richard Yates in Easter Parade:
Readings feel the same way to me. Now, I enjoy reading. I've always been a bit of a ham, and I confess that I'm vain (although taking "selfies" or photos of myself for the pure purpose of a facebook profile picture is something I'm extremely uncomfortable with), but readings are strange things. Writing, unless it is for the sake of performance (plays, slam poetry), is meant to live on the page. And when I stand up in front of a group of people my ego gets in the way. I want to look good. Sound good. Come off well. I want people to admire me and walk away saying, "That Krisserin is AMAZING." I mean, who doesn't? But I hate that the performance (which I enjoy) gets in the way of my words. It's a just a different type of selfie.
In all truth, these are nice problems to have, but maybe I'm getting older. The hustling, the self-promotion, even this blogarrhea feels self-indulgent, and revealing, and the environment in which we're releasing our work today makes it really hard to be honest. It feels masturbatory at best and like giving up a piece of yourself at its worst.