A few years back I came across an article by Paul Graham called ‘How To Do What You Love‘. I’ve read it periodically since then and every time I seem to take something new from it. On the most recent reading, the bits about prestige seemed to stand out to me. Graham writes:
What you should not do, I think, is worry about the opinion of anyone beyond your friends. You shouldn’t worry about prestige. Prestige is the opinion of the rest of the world. When you can ask the opinions of people whose judgement you respect, what does it add to consider the opinions of people you don’t even know?
In terms of what I write about I don’t think I’m particularly swayed by prestige. I’m not sure what exactly would be considered a prestigious thing to write about. Though I can certainly think of plenty of genres that are not considered prestigious. Still, as Graham writes: Prestige is just fossilized inspiration. If you do anything well enough, you’ll make it prestigious. Graham gives the example of jazz. Writing about wizards comes to mind. J.K. Rowling is the one laughing now.
However, I know I’m not entirely immune to prestige either. I love writing. I love the very act of writing. Sitting here now, in front of my laptop, sipping tea and hearing the sound of my keyboard fills me with a sense of wellness. This is what I’m meant to do. Yet there is a part of me that isn’t content simply to write. There is a part of me that wants to be published by an Important Publisher and win Important Awards because anything less would be second rate or worse, failure.
Graham goes on to write:
Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.
Prestige doesn’t just warp your beliefs about what you like. It warps your ability to enjoy the things you know you like. Even if I spend the next 50 years simply sharing my thoughts on this blog (or whatever medium has replaced blogging in 50 years) and writing half finished essay after half finished essay, I want to be able to accept that that is enough. And that it doesn’t make me any less of a writer. The point isn’t to get published by an Important Publisher (or any publisher for that matter). The point, as Anne Lamott writes in Bird by Bird (a book I read over Christmas and I’m sure I will be reading again in the future), is to have a big juicy creative life.