Sunday, February 1, 2009

Down but not out

When a friend told me that John Updike had passed away, I surprised him with the gravity of my response. “It’s been a tough year for the literary world,” I said, sighing.

I was thinking, of course, of another profound loss last September.

While most industries are nothing but gloom and doom these days, the literary field has taken quite a few beatings as of late. There’s the demise of the publishing industry; the technological take-over of books; the ongoing crisis of the short attention span; the destruction of quality literature; the downsizing of newspapers and columns; the influx of dirty, lying memoirists; and the harmful deluge of more creative writing MFA programs. Hell, even Toni Morrison’s latest book was met with little to no excitement and so-so reviews.

By all accounts, it’s a terrible time to be a writer. The great ones are dying off in record number, and the new ones can’t compete with snappy blogs, clever tweets, and celebrity tell-alls.

The way I see it, in times such as these, writers have three options: (1) Drink yourself into oblivion to numb the pain caused by the demolition of your dreams, (2) Throw in the towel and finagle your way into an industry that isn’t dying, like, say, fundraising, or (3) Use the pain to fuel your writing, and write your fucking hands off.

I intend to try to do the latter. Despite all evidence to the contrary, writers may be down, but as history has shown us, we’re never out. According to Updike, “The essential support and encouragement comes from within, arising out of the mad notion that your society needs to know what only you can tell it.”

So I say pick yourself up and keep at it. And if that doesn’t work, there’s always option #1.

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