WORDS FROM THE WISE/PART 14 – Rick Moody
(It’s OK to be insecure)
We’re all insecure about something–in fact, I’ve re-written this introduction twice already. It’s tough being a creative person these days too, especially when your average writer has to be a multi-platform marketing expert. Blogging strategies, click-bait titles, SEO and social media distribution are all as important as good grammar, luscious prose and a killer plot-line.
But the thing is, even people like Rick Moody get insecure – and he’s the award winning author of cult sensations ‘The Ice Storm’ and ‘Garden State’ (both were adapted for the screen to similar praise) AND The New Yorker listed him on their “20 Writers for the 21st Century” list. Rick says ‘insecurities are a good thing’.
The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”
RM – These strike me as two slightly disparate issues you ask about. The first issue is: the young author is riddled with insecurities. And so let me address this issue first. I too am riddled with insecurities. And it has always been this way. While it is fair to say that I used to have more of these insecurities than I do now, I am not free, nor do I ever expect to be free of them. And yet I imagine this to be a good thing not a bad thing. Why is that? Why are insecurities good? Because insecurity indicates sophisticated thinking about the possible outcomes in life. Life, as any thinking person knows, is incredibly difficult, sometimes heartbreaking, but also frequently joyous. It is noteworthy for its moral ambiguity and its frequent lack of justice. Also for its fleeting and ephemeral poignance.
To write into this conundrum, to write into the uncertainties and difficulties of life is to speak the truth about what it means to be human, and that is the job of the writer. Confidence, or at least the veneer of confidence, is easy to come by, and it is usually the province of people who are a little deluded about their ambitions.
While it is not infrequent that writers are ludicrously certain of their greatness, the best writers, the most insightful and lucid writers, are the ones who see how frail beauty and joy are in the category four hurricane that is modern life. They are right to be riddled with insecurities.
The perfect work comes from this very place.
Now, the second issue is: the young author is also, apparently, “overwhelmed by the publishing industry.” This is exactly not the thing to be insecure about, in my view, because it’s not worth thinking about for very long at all. The industry, that den of thieves, cannot be trusted, doesn’t care about you, will never care about you, is constantly heading downhill toward the crassly commercial and poorly written, it even celebrates its crass and commercial interests, etc. etc. But these facts are ancillary to writing entirely. Great writing does not depend on the publishing industry. It depends on the will of the writer. The goal, every day, should be to get up and write a few lines regardless of what else is happening in the world, such that you might feel some pride and joy about a paragraph or two, or at least a sentence.
If you do that for long enough, you will have a book, and then you can, if you like, bother yourself about what to do with the book. But that’s not a requirement. It is not a requirement that you publish your book with the publishing industry. The life of a writer is made out of episodes of craft, not out of publications. The writing episode is the part you can control. I happen to think it’s true that all work that is good at a certain level will ultimately be published, simply because writing of great quality is rare. But I also think the question of publication is secondary to the craft of writing, which is the part that I really love. So I say don’t ever worry about the publishing industry. Just worry about trying to capture the poignant uncertainties and complexities of life.
That’s plenty daunting enough! And well worth the effort.