All stories are valid. But not all stories are marketable”— Matthew Neill Null
Authors, at least those wishing to sustain themselves with their writing skills, are necessarily peddlers. A life of writing must include a concerted effort to sell the fruits of creative work. But we rob ourselves of better treasures when we write only for the market, when we produce only for the rewards of remuneration. This may have been Marx’s most profound insight, what he called alienation. We are not ourselves when pay becomes our only motivation.
The Vulnerabilities of Mercenary Writing
Perhaps more to the point, writing for pay exposes the vulnerabilities of mercenary wordsmiths; they live a precarious existence. Markets change and worlds disappear. Matthew Neill Null asks in his essay about West Virginia writing, “Faulkner, Welty, James Welch, Willa Cather, Zora Neale Hurston, John Ehle—would they even be published today? Or, more pointedly, would they have even lived and come of age in those forgotten, country places? Probably not. They were all creations of worlds that, due to the vicissitudes of capitalism, no longer exist.” The wisdom of those places, the prophetic perspectives of the people who inhabited them, become lost to us.
Finding a Prophetic Voice
But old wisdoms can still guide us, even as new perspectives and new prophecies crowd the marketplace. Writers, all creative people, can be the prophetic voices of worlds they stand outside of. As Null concludes, “Estrangement creates writers.” Our distance from the demands of the marketplace alleviates our alienation and offers clarity on worlds we’ve not begun to understand.
Yes creative people, including writers, must find ways to feed themselves, to live the sorts of lives that sustain their creative efforts. But making a living can not be the only goal, or even the most important aim, of pursuing the artistic impulse. We write, we draw, we sing, we create to be alive and to keep others alive as well. ♨
[Epigraph quotation by Matthew Neill Null in his essay “No One is Writing the Real West Virginia,” on Literary Hub]