I love the smart, imaginative editors I’m writing for right now. They make me sound like I’m smarter than I am (and that’s pretty goddamn smart, too, huh huh!). But let’s be honest. The world is filled with smart people who will quite cheerfully turn your original weird ideas into horse shit. They won’t do this because they’re evil or because they’re crass capitalist slobs or because they’re fucking morons, either. They’ll do it because you’re standing there saying, “Well? What should this be? What should I be? Who the fuck am I anyway? Do you even love me anymore?” They will show you how to turn what you have, which is strange-ish and not fully formed and maybe a little sloppy, into the average of everything that came before you. They will inadvertently point you straight at the Least Common Denominator, either because you haven’t indicated that you’re capable of more than that, or because they haven’t had a second cup of coffee yet, or because they just heard that someone got a big advance for something a little bit like what you’re doing, only way stupider.
Selling out is usually more a matter of buying in. Sell out, and you’re really buying into someone else’s system of values, rules and rewards.
The so-called “opportunity” I faced would have meant giving up my individual voice for that of a money-grubbing corporation. It would have meant my purpose in writing was to sell things, not say things. My pride in craft would be sacrificed to the efficiency of mass production and the work of assistants. Authorship would become committee decision. Creativity would become work for pay. Art would turn into commerce. In short, money was supposed to supply all the meaning I’d need.
What the syndicate wanted to do, in other words, was turn my comic strip into everything calculated, empty and robotic that I hated about my old job. They would turn my characters into television hucksters and T-shirt sloganeers and deprive me of characters that actually expressed my own thoughts.
It’s surprising how hard we’ll work when the work is done just for ourselves. And with all due respect to John Stuart Mill, maybe utilitarianism is overrated. If I’ve learned one thing from being a cartoonist, it’s how important playing is to creativity and happiness. My job is essentially to come up with 365 ideas a year.
If you ever want to find out just how uninteresting you really are, get a job where the quality and frequency of your thoughts determine your livelihood. I’ve found that the only way I can keep writing every day, year after year, is to let my mind wander into new territories. To do that, I’ve had to cultivate a kind of mental playfulness.
I always assume everything that I read is fiction, even if it’s in the non-fiction section. The very notion of putting something on paper means that you are creating a narrative.
Let’s face it: Literary fiction is fucking boring. It really is. It’s a genre as replete with clichés as any. And when you’re as deeply immersed in it as many of us are, it’s all too easy to stop noticing the clichés. They no longer stand out. They’re just What People Do. And so, we do them. If a writer of literary fiction wants to be great, she needs to poke her head up out of the echo chamber every now and then and absorb the genuine peculiarity of human striving. And that means reading stuff that is not literary fiction, and, sometimes, not reading at all.
I am considerably less naïve now than in the days when I innocently read fiction as fiction, when I took the author’s word that characters and events had been invented. Filing this complaint has hardened my heart. Still, I am capable of being surprised by a world filled with two-faced authors and the publishers who enable them.
If such a coordinated approach were in place, then the conference could be “tracked,” by which I mean an attendee could follow a selection of sessions that related to a focused approach—an orchestrated series of panels on the publication of contemporary poetry, or a sequence of sessions on the potentials of electronic literature, or a line of events on that almost entirely missing topic this year: self-publishing.
Ether for Authors: Looking for AWP’s Leadership | Publishing Perspectives
The lack of self-publishing and digital publishing panels was indeed disappointing. One of many disappointing things about AWP13. I agree with most of Anderson’s complaints and I’m glad somebody with his platform is voicing them.
That said, I think the refrain cited in this post of “I just don’t know” as a response from people as to why they were at the conference speaks more to those people then the conference itself. If you know why you’re there and you know what you want to get out of the conference, I think it can still work for you. In short: it ain’t all bad. (Which I know is not a glowing review of a conference.)
But admittedly, it’s VERY difficult to feel like you’re actually “participating” in AWP. The event is so large it has hit SXSW proportions. Like SXSW, the best times I have had have happened outside the event itself, meeting with friends, former professors, etc. Also, I was turned away from two panels I really wanted to hear because they were too crowded.
Soo… I’m taking note of the other conferences Anderson mentions in this post.