Readersforum's Blog

December 20, 2011

Two Hats For Today’s Writers (and 10 Awful Truths)

By Christopher Meeks

I just saw a documentary, To Write and Keep Kind, a PBS documentary on the life and writing of Raymond Carver. It’s part of the two-disc Criterion Collection version of Robert Altman’s movie Short Cuts, based on Raymond Carver’s short stories. I couldn’t help but think at the end of the documentary, If Carver had to start out today, would he be tweeting and blogging and posting on Goodreads?

Thinking that made me realize today’s writer needs to wear two hats: those of the artist and of the marketer — Carver and K-tel.

Carver broke new ground in that he wasn’t part of the East Coast writing and publishing establishment. His stories of the Pacific Northwest found many fans for their honest portrayal of working — and drinking — men and women eking through a hardscrabble life. His short stories “Cathedral” and “A Small Good Thing,” are two of my favorites.

What Carver did was extraordinary — no writer then or now has had an easy path — but the rules were clearer when Carver was writing and publishing in the sixties through the eighties. He published short stories and poetry in small journals and moved up to magazines such as Esquire and the New Yorker. His first collection of short fiction, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?, came out in 1977. He never wrote a novel. These days, with the publishing industry in turmoil and essentially looking only to publish big hits by writers with “platforms,” writers have more on their shoulders.

One truth hasn’t changed. Writing well takes a lot of work, often years to hone. It’s the first hat you wear. It also means finding books and stories you love and learning from them. For some people, it also means going to school and studying the subject. For me, it’s also meant being brave — of being honest enough to tell the truths of my life, small moments that speak volumes. These include doubts, desires, dire realizations as well as the hopes, humor, and the absurdity I see around me.

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