We are most passionate about what we believe in and hope for, but it does tend to make us gullible in the pursuit of those goals.
For example, the salesperson wants to make the sale, and to do so must believe in his product. Most salespeople I’ve encountered have no doubts about what they’re selling, even if the item or service is trivial or deceitful. What’s interesting to me is that most of the salespeople I’ve known and worked with have the same attitude when someone else tries to sell them something. They tend to be quite easy to convince, because they believe so easily. Call it selling the salesman.
I think it’s the same for many writers. We believe so much in what we do, that we are as willing to be sold on aspects of the writing business for which maybe we should reserve some doubt.
I know, I know. WTF? The above comes from reading The New Yorker’s piece, “Two New Books About ‘Borges’” by Mark O’Connell. He writes of Jorge Luis Borges that, “Doubt was the sacred principle of his work, its animating force and, frequently, its message.” Borges doubted in his literature, and he doubted in life. He did not buy into many of the writing schools or practices of his time. He didn’t believe in writing novels when his ideas could be presented in short stories. He didn’t believe in genres. He abhorred the need for marketing and publicity, although he was one of the most interviewed authors of his time—but he spent much interview time separating his private self (the “I”) from his public persona (“Borges”). He understood the difference and did what he felt he had to do, but never bought into the hype. (Although maybe his criticism of his alter ego was a bit of an act to generate more publicity—with Borges, one never knows.)
In an essay titled “Borges and I,” he wrote this (reprinted in the NYer post):
Borges stands for all the things I hate. He stands for publicity, for being photographed, for having interviews, for politics, for opinions—all opinions are despicable I should say. He also stands for those two nonentities, those two impostors failure and success […] He deals in those things. While I, let us say, since the name of the paper is “Borges and I,” I stands not for the public man but for the private self, for reality, since these other things are unreal to me.
We are told by some of the agents and publishers who control the mainstream writing industry that we must market ourselves every day: blog, facebook, tweet, tumble, blah, blah, etc. How they expect us to be any good as writers if we spend time self-promoting instead of writing is beyond me, but I’m not surprised by that attitude, because these people are no longer writers or even believers in great literature, but salespeople, and they believe in, well, selling stuff, not creating stuff.
I admire Borges (actually not Borges, but his “I”), and like him I try to separate myself when I write as much as possible from that “other,” the necessary and gullible self-centered wannabe who writes this blog and sends out tweets and would gladly do an interview if anyone ever asked.
Maybe this split personality, this dual track imposed upon me by the publishing moguls (and me) will work out someday, and I’ll be a successful writer, but I have some doubts if I’ll be able to recognize success should it happen. The two me’s have different ideas about what constitutes that state.
Where do you fall on the spectrum of platform-building “mandates” presented to writers today?