The Problem with Writers is...

by phil on Monday Apr 19, 2004 8:13 PM

I was recently asked what it takes to become a writer. Three things, I answered: first, one must cultivate incompetence at almost every other form of profitable work. This must be accompanied, second, by a haughty contempt for all the forms of work that one has established one cannot do. To these two must be joined, third, the nuttiness to believe that other people can be made to care about your opinions and views and be charmed by the way you state them. Incompetence, contempt, lunacy—once you have these in place, you are set to go. (read the rest by Joseph Epstein)

daah, this has become me, and I admit, it is kind of sick. (1) It's not that I've developed an incompetence, but rather a strong lack of motivation for profitable work. (2) I do not condem these other types of work so I'm okay. (3) This is where I make the largest error in judgment: I have this wild belief that my material is extremely profound.

I understand now the great decay chain of thought-communication-teaching. What you think you know is one thing. Then what you are able to communicate is like ten percent of that. And then what other's will understand is another 10%. So only 1% of what's inside can really get inside other ppl's heads. Even many great writers lament how poorly understood their works are, and some of them get depressed.

So maybe I will still suffer partly from (3); I still believe my thinking to be profound and laden with value to others. However, I've learnt the hard truth about writing that so much more of suceeding as a writer is in producing charismatic works. This is then just a function of one's social talents via the pen and not necessarily the beauty of one's intellect.

found via MeFi


brandon said on April 21, 2004 5:39 AM:

don't you think that's a rather cynical view to have? there are some good writers who are good at other things as well. and though it is true that what is communicated is never done so fully, what does get across can be quite influential.

iro said on April 21, 2004 9:55 AM:

Umh...more than one writer has admitted that they chose such a profession because they are unable to do anything else...and as a future professional writer I'll have to agree...

Anyway as far as I make people think with my works I don't really care of how people interpret my work. As my literature professor in high school used to tell us, and as some philosophers think, once the work leaves the hands of the author it's not their anyone, it's up the public to interpret it in any way the wish. Some come to the point that in any interpretation the intentions of the author, often better expressed in diaries and corrispondence, shoul be totally disregarded as they are not part of the text.

Philip Dhingra said on April 21, 2004 10:05 AM:

Yeah, I apologize. This is a gross over-simplification. Some of my favorite writers are great because of their knowledge in areas besides writing: Kurzweil, Leary, Huxley, Sarte, Nietzsche.

(unless you don't consider philosophy to be a legitimate other interest)

nonetheless, I intended the post to be more cathartic. I don't fit that stereotype completely, but I see a lot of what is being painted there in me. As a result, by laying it out as I did, I'm taking cold medicine. I want to keep myself honest and self-deprecation helps.

brandon said on April 21, 2004 7:51 PM:

i understand. i think my own defense was a bit exagerated: as a writer, i am easily offended by the idea that i am not good at anything productive. i think i am good at other things, but they would never make me happy enough to put a large amount of energy into them.

at any rate, one fine example of a writer who was skilled in practical matters is Kurt Vonnegut - he originally wanted to be an architect.

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