Today I heard a humorous (well, not so funny if you’re trying to get published) riff about the huge number of writers who’ve created, then sent off for review, Pandemic-related personal essays, short stories and even novels. Like I pretty much expect all publicists – savvy realists – to express themselves, this one was stark in her message to those who believe that personal stories of misery and woe, deprivation, psychological trauma and darkly-humorous moments will have meaning and value to others. I’m paraphrasing here, but this publicist (of a large House) said, “Trust me: the experience you’re writing about? It’s already happened to one thousand other people who wrote about it. They thought it was interesting, but it’s not. Not anymore.” Harsh. Since, like any other artist, many of us write / communicate from a feeling place… does the publisher’s riff mean that the feelings and experiences of living through a pandemic (for some writers, their first ) have become banal in less than five months? More generally, to what degree is original-experience still valuable in our world, with so much exposure, over-sharing and discussion happening in-between Major Life Events?
Time is a great healer, and giver-of-perspective. Many years ago, when I knew that I had to pack up my things, grab my son and leave my marriage asap (it had devolved into an unsafe situation), the effort to get organized and tamp-down my fears was exhausting. One of my major struggles sprang from the fact that I’d married a man who consistently shut-down any conversation that might involve sharing feelings. And I was all about feelings. Even the discussion about our break-up was one-sided, with me doing the feeling and the problem-solving. Back in the day, the Internet wasn’t a ‘thing’ or an option. I couldn’t access the Experience of Others (after I’d driven friends and family members crazy with my issues), research homeopathic cures for panic attacks, or search for an apartment online. My choices were, talk to someone who’d listen and perhaps offer help, or, write.
Throughout the years of my marriage and the dissolution of it, I’d always kept a Journal. In bad times, I’d write entries several times a day. I still have the many books that I filled with fearful, raw moments; epiphanies; poetry and prayers. Someone recently said to me, “You should self-publish your experiences on Amazon.” Should I. When there are so many people Blogging, You-Tubing ,Ted-Talking and writing books about survival and empowerment? It’s a weird mindset I’m entertaining, that today appears to have been validated by the aforementioned publicist.
I’ve mentioned in my Posts before that my son’s career has given me broad insight into the complex, amazing and subtly-manipulative world of Marketing. I’m completely fascinated by consumer trends, branding, promoting and selling. In writing, original experience is valuable, and yet…it’s hard (impossible) to know whose voice is worth listening to. Anyone can write with authority on a topic, be convincing and entertaining, without having lived the experience (case in point, the current, controversial novel, “American Dirt”). The question for me is, which is more important: feeling what I feel, and expressing that in a way that seems natural to Who I Am; or, feeling what I feel and marketing that expression in ways that are going to resonate with the most people?
Despite what publishers might think, which I’m sure is reality-based on actual Dollars Spent/ Searches, Views, Clicks, Links and Referrals, all truly original experience is valuable. No writer should feel (as I did today, for a nano-second) discouraged by the words “Your experience? No one cares.” I’m convinced that most writers do care about authenticity; and most believe that our individual experiences matter – much more so than our cyber social world would have us believe. Unless we’re completely dependent on our Writing for our economic survival, we don’t need to package our creativity according to Marketing guidelines. The trick for me, I think, is to write from this frame of mind instead: “This is what interests me today. Even if no one reads it, I’ve satisfied my urge to express my own perspective about it, and that feels good. I might change my mind about self-expression tomorrow; who knows. I’ll figure it out then.” Why Do You Write?