Friday, April 20, 2007

On Originality and Art

Just yesterday I stumbled upon the wonderful blog of Sean Ferrell, an author from New York. I highly recommend that you check it out. Yesterday's post was about a survey noting the high job satisfaction among authors (take that for what you will, since we know nothing of the pool they used for the survey--but I like to think it's true), and today's post is about the need for true artists who don't just try to conform to what is presently popular. The bulk of the post is a letter from Bob Ezrin, who discusses this need in the context of the music industry.

Sean points out the similarities to the book publishing industry, and I think that's right on. The part that makes me happiest is that I don't believe the publishing industry is exercising the sort of creative meddling that Ezrin notes is present in the music industry. Yes, I think that there are certain topics that are known to sell, and certain requirements to catch the attention of the modern reader (ahem**pacing**ahem), but I think that the industry generally knows a great writer when it sees it. Great books that are slower might not always get published until a writer has made more of a following for himself/herself, but that's just the competitive nature of the business, not conscious meddling by editors or agents.

Why, then, do I find Ezrin's letter to be so relevant? Because there is a censor in this industry--and it's us, the aspiring writers. We often censor ourselves, trying to create something that will be instantly popular, rather than something that is important to us. I frequent a number of agents' blogs, and a hot topic at all of them is "What are editors looking for?" What trends are hot? How can I easily make my way in? These are questions that I pay very little attention to, personally.

With all my recent worrying over issues of pacing, I imagine it's pretty clear that I'm making some changes to my style in order to hopefully sell ALDEN RIDGE where THE GUARDIAN hasn't yet sold. While this is true, these are nothing more than just issues of structure. The modern standards of fiction structure are something that we'll all have to conform to for at least our debut novel, and we might gripe about that, but in truth these standards help us reach a broader audience than we would otherwise be able to. Even though I'm consciously trying to make ALDEN RIDGE as fast-paced as I reasonably can, I'm still writing about something which is important to me, and which doesn't just follow the norms of any one genre.

Pacing is a tool, a technical skill to be learned like grammar or the use of literary devices, and for debut novelists it is just as important. But just because you need to use certain tools to succeed doesn't mean that you have to try to find "popular" subjects to write about. I very much believe that any subject can be interesting as a story if told skillfully enough. Write what's important to you, in your own unique and original way, and your passion for the subject will infuse your work with a life that is impossible to consciously manufacture. This is what I take away from Ezrin's letter.