Is writing an art or a career?


The Passion of Creation, Leonid Pasternak, 19th Century

From The New Republic:

Writers as varied as Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens, and Mary McCarthy would have been outraged to be called anything other than professionals, and when you push past Mark Twain’s most renowned books, you find a lot of writing that did little more than spin off from his celebrity. But today’s forms of authorial self-promotion often seem to depend upon a mastery of social media outreach—a talent only recently connected to the crafting of prose. Consider the extraliterary responsibilities expected of authors who have had their novels accepted for publication: Develop an active presence on Facebook and Twitter (and, for the truly motivated, on Tumblr, Instagram, and Pinterest); create an accompanying web site, video trailer, and soundtrack; go on a book tour, naturally, but also participate in a variety of reading series in anticipation of and well after the publication date; take part in panels and signings at book expos; give interviews to blogs and podcasts and write personal essays about your background, your development as a writer, and your process of creation; not only review other books but join the great merry-go-round of blurbing; perhaps you’ll even personally attend book clubs.

The Unprofessionals, as Stein presents it, exhibits a lofty indifference to such spectacle. He characterizes TheParis Review as a kind of elite artist’s colony whose sole mandate is the refinement of craft. The twelve stories and novel excerpts in the anthology (which also features poetry and essays) are by writers whose ages range from their late twenties to their early forties; five are winners of the Plimpton Prize for Fiction, the magazine’s annual award for new voices. Stein notes that The Paris Review has a distinguished history of discovering important writers, from Philip Roth to David Foster Wallace, and its intention here is to anoint the finest talents from the noisy and crowded coming generation. Stein brings his own impressive track record as an editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, where he worked with Jonathan Franzen, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Richard Price, and helped bring foreign writers such as Roberto Bolaño to the attention of American audiences.

The anthology further boosts its credentials as a showcase for serious literature by claiming the imprimatur of realist fiction, the mode of writing traditionally given pride of place in literary awards and prestige venues likeThe New Yorker. Nearly all of its stories are tonally and stylistically alike, tracing a lineage from John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Yates, and Lorrie Moore. These are, most commonly, vignettes of sin and suffering amid milieus of privilege—what the bard of suburban discord John Cheever called “the worm in the apple.” The married couple in April Ayers Lawson’s “Virgin” looks like a pair of blissful newlyweds, but the story lays bare the truths of sexual trauma and infidelity. In Peter Orner’s “Foley’s Pond,” an infant—perhaps egged on by her older brother—drowns in a neighborhood pond, which is then filled in and converted to a pretty, manicured park.

“Should Writing Be an Art or a Career?”, Sam Sacks, New Republic