On writing and prestige

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2013-03-02 13.39.34x

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.

0 thoughts on “On writing and prestige”

  1. Interesting. Where he says that we shouldn’t be worried about the opinion of anyone beyond our friends, I would add that not all our friends, lovely as they are, are the best judges of our writing. They may be completely different from the people whose ‘judgement we trust’. One of my mentors says ‘make a strong offer, and walk away’. By which she means, if we write with a view to approbation, we will frequently be disappointed. Better to write because we love the process. Everything else is a bonus….

    1. Yes, I agree about the friends things. I like that line from your mentor. Might I ask, how does one procure a mentor? Its something I’m been interested in for a while.

      1. The quote is from an American woman called Patti Digh – I joined an online class called VerbTribe about three years ago, because I was sick of saying that I was going to write, and then not doing it. Since then, I’ve been writing a thousand words a day (most days) plus I’ve got my column in Earthlines and the blog, so it was money well spent! It just kind of happened for me. And there seem to be so many different kinds of things out there, from paid mentors to people who just ‘happen’. Are there any writers/teachers you’ve had that you admire? Nothing wrong with asking them 🙂

        1. I can certainly relate to the whole saying I want to write more and then not! I can think of a few potential mentors, I think I just need to build up the courage to ask them! I think it would be really useful to get some regular and valued feedback on my writing and to learn from someone who’s been in my shoes.

  2. take courage in both hands give it a shake and go for it! fear of the unknown is a powerful blocker to reaching our potential

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