Thursday, January 06, 2005

The Inner Ring Ding

In response to an earlier post, Peter makes an interesting comment about the "professionalization" of writing fiction." It's not the things one does to get published that seems to bother him, but rather the fact these steps have been packaged and sold, no different than Anthony Robbins hawking Personal Power or your typical infomercial for a ButtMaster or Robo Griller. You get an MFA, you go to conferences, you buy How To books, all of which tell you to get an MFA, go to a conference, and buy more How To books.

I look around the house and see books "on writing" that I have accumulated. There are plenty of Poets and Writers Markets collecting dust; I have a few agent guides. Between the two of us, Wife and I have gone to four conferences and have two MFAs in creative writing. Yeah, we've spent the dough, sat through the classes, highlighted magazines we thinkhopepray will publish our work. You could say that I've tried to "professionalize" my writing. OK, I admit it (I also have looked at a porn web site).

But, to disagree with Peter, you cannot "become" a writer simply by taking classes or attending conferences or sucking up to the right person. The problem is that after all your professionalization, you still have to write. Most of my time is spent staring at the computer screen or hammering away on a adrenalin roll, agonizing over a prepositional phrase or having a Eureka moment about a character. Classes can tell you what's good about your writing, but they can't write for you.

You can proclaim that you're a Writer, or you can do the things writers do, which are time-consuming, difficult, and often unpleasant.

When I was in my twenties, stubborn and unwilling to change my Obviously Brilliant Writing, I felt as if nobody was accepting my work because I was living in a small city, working at a loser job, and not part of the Club. It was like C.S. Lewis's "The Inner Ring," to which a finite number of people -- far smarter, more talented, and cooler than me -- had access.

Of course, that was not the problem. Nor was it entirely the poor quality of my work. The issue was that I was isolated, both physically and mentally, and it was only when I broke out of this isolation did my writing became something worthwhile. Many writers don't necessarily need to break out of isolation, but I did, and it is what the "professionalization" of writing ultimately did for me. It provided readers, critics, contacts, and, yes, friends. And, as Mr. Lewis says, friendship causes perhaps half the happiness in the world, and no Inner Ring can ever have it.

I don't know what the hell that had to do with anything, but it sounded good.