Thursday, September 29, 2011

Quality, Quantity, or Quiche?

This post comes on the heels of two slices of spinach and Gruyère quiche and a bowl of asparagus and goat's cheese pasta, so not sure how coherent I can be on such a full and deliciously satisfied stomach thanks to my hubby.  But I'll try nonetheless...

I have prolific writing moments.  There are notebooks in my garage full of stories, novel starters, and random one-liners.  I also have have a formidable rejection pile, stories gracefully declined from Glimmer Train and The New Yorker.  Zoetrope and Esquire.  (My favorite one, actually, includes a personal and deeply complimentary note from the editor at the time of Esquire :-)  When I'm not feeling so prolific I wade through the sorry Sally stories - yes, my students are studying alliteration, I'm sort of obsessed - and this brings me to the topic of today's blog post.

Is it better as a writer to have our name out there any which way we can, or should we exhibit a conservative hand and reserve placement solely for the glitz and glam of the big names?

As always, I don't know on which side of the line I fall.  There are thousands of online destinations where a piece can be published these days.  I ran my own online literary magazine for two years, and on any given day I toy with the idea of starting another even though I'm already sleeping fewer hours than I'd prefer.  There are also a multitude of author's personal websites.  And hubs for fan fiction, role playing scripts, and blogs.  Ahem, yes I said it.  Blogs like the one you are reading right now.  

Literally I could send any of my previously failed stories out to one thousand and seven places and not begin to scratch the surface of the internet's wide grasp.  Of course I'd re-edit them first.  Not to pat myself on the back, but I'm guessing someone would pick up these stories.  Somewhere.  If not, I'd finally get my own site running and place it there myself.  The question that begs to be asked, though, is "does the process become too easy?"

Does instant publication make us more likely to release our pieces into the wild before they are ready?  Sure there are thousands of authors out there, but if there are thousands of sites looking to populate their spaces with work, can it all be sustained?  Or do editors find themselves dropping standards and accepting more than they should?  And do authors build a quick and large resume of publications that don't necessarily represent their best works?  As we all know painfully well, not all stories are good enough to be published.  Or frankly to see the light of day.  But in the digital age have we lost the outside filter that differentiates quality from fluff?

Of course we now find ourselves racing head-first down the slippery slope of investigating the meaning of the word quality, and the last thing I want to do is come off as a lit snob.  I like my comic books as much as my classics, and I believe that all genres, styles, voices, etc. are unique and could easily be championed by a Lady Gaga song touting their beauty.  I'm thinking more of polished and finished versus draft and sloppy.  I can best liken the core of my question to Project Runway.  I have no issue with the purple pleather maxidress with a red leopard print boa and granny bloomers beneath if that's the designer's masterpiece.  BUT had the designer been given more time, wouldn't he or she have edited and finessed more?

Do we as writers need to force ourselves to keep revisiting and sending our works to the best of the best until something crosses through the magic gate into substantial publication?

Playing the devil's advocate, several incredible authors and literary phenomena have emerged from the internet.  Authors can connect with one another.  Critique groups defy state and country lines, and the idea of a global literary community has never been more possible.  Youngsters are encouraged to write because they believe their voices will be heard more now than ever before.  And authors are nudged into being more prolific and connecting with readers, a once shaky at best path of communication.  I emailed quite some time ago with Jodi Piccoult and got goosebumps that authors are that accessible.  I remember the first short story of hers I read in Seventeen Magazine back in the late 80's.  

Perhaps my real question isn't quality versus quantity of publication but instead a concern with how the art of writing is evolving.  Is the line between draft and final copy so blurred that the fine art of editing isn't a must anymore?  I can't imagine how hard it must have been for writers to work with typewriters and little tabs of white out.  (Who am I kidding?  I'm thirty-five, and when I was a kid I did it, too.)  You didn't race to type a word unless you were deeply invested in it.  A wrong keystroke meant aligning the little white square, backing up the machine and paper, and retyping *if* you manage it in the right spot.  Now, we have undo icons, quick deletes, and buttons that let us publish in under a second.  Is the ease and convenience of immediate and mass publishing hurting the art and craft of writing?

I write this while eyeing the tempting orange publish post button.  It's late, but I think I'll read back over the post a few more times.  Just in case.

1 comment:

  1. I love this post . Some really good thoughts to ponder over