Sunday, May 28, 2017

What Writers Say, Part 8: Edward Albee on Reacting to Criticism

Taking too much stock in positive or negative criticism could be crippling for a writer. Edward Albee noticed that once playwrights lose the favor of their critics, they might become confused by being panned for works that are actually as good if not better than their earlier works that had won acclaim. Albee also one-upped this commonly held view among writers by claiming that the final evaluation of a dramatic work has nothing to do with the audience or the critic. He insisted that writers take an intensely personal view of their own work, resisting the temptation to compose for popular appeal, which can be fickle and undefinable.

Whether one agrees with Albee as I do, writers should take as lifelong advice the underlying value of his admonition. It's up to the writers themselves to decide whether their creations have value. That disposition will keep them writing.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

What Writers Say, Part 7: Lillian Hellman on Failing as a Writer

Edward Albee referred to negative critical response as the inevitable ax falling. Francis Ford Coppola spoke about the proclivity of critics to topple the very pedestals on which they placed creative artists. For this reason, playwright Lillian Hellman once observed, "It is necessary that you not become frightened of failure." 

Hellman makes a salient point in response to this destiny that writers will ultimately experience. In theater more than other literary endeavors, many factors can contribute to a flop: the director's interpretation, the actors' performances, the set and light designers' staging, and critics eager to build their reputation at the expense of the writer among them. Therefore, failure seems inevitable. It's part of the business. It's public, it's embarrassing, it's painful. But it will happen. Fearing the specter of failure is no different from fearing the inevitability of death. 

Since writers need not worry about the certainty of failure, they have only one responsibility: to write.  

Sunday, May 14, 2017

What Writers Say, Part 6: Norman Mailer on Seeking the Truth

If writing is a challenging task for dubious returns even for the most astute and accomplished authors, then why bother with it? The French novelist Jean Malaquais once told Norman Mailer that despite the anguish writing exacts on him, he continues to do it as the only way to find the truth. This self-imposed yoke compelled Malaquais to endure whatever mental or emotional burden he could to complete his manuscripts.

Whether writers see their job as a means to an end, whatever that end may be, or as an intellectual or spiritual exercise, their goal should always be to do it with integrity. That approach by itself will ensure they reach a state of high quality. I suppose this truth holds for any walk of life.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

What Writers Say, Part 5: Norman Mailer on the Ideal Audience

What sort of readers do writers hope pick up their book? Norman Mailer said his ideal audience "has no tradition by which to measure their experience but the intensity and clarity in their inner lives. That's the audience I'd like to be good enough to write for."

Mailer's goal for such an audience is to raise their experience to a higher level. Thus, he sets for himself the standard of writing to enlighten readers whose intellect and insight exceed what have attained merely from their formal education, a depth of wisdom that comes from a continuously examined life. If writers can't take their job that seriously, then they should do something else.