I find myself, since finishing Itsy’s Ugly, in the midst of a great debate. Fortunately, and unfortunately, with experience comes the knowledge that choices made today can create the choices you will have to make tomorrow. Sometimes, choices are stifling, especially when the world offers so many options. Do I spend the extra dollar on a new brand of humus? What if I don’t like it? Do I buy the shelves for forty dollars? Because experience says that something could happen tomorrow and I’ll need that forty dollars. Do I continue my fight to return to school? (Believe me, it has been a fight.) The truth is that I don’t want to go to school, especially after spending a week in classes for work. But what impact will my decision now have on my future employment when I’m in my fifties? Sixties? And since I won’t be able to retire, seventies and eighties?
When we make decisions, we assume responsibility for the outcome and it’s overwhelming. So, when new thoughts crept into my brain in their ever so sneaky way, I found myself in another great debate.
Deep breath while I use my coping strategies.
I have been adamant for years that self-publishing, for me, was never an option. Between marketing and lack of validation by the established industry, it just didn’t seem like a viable choice. But lately, those little thoughts crept in and I’ve been re-evaluating my opinion. And it all started with The Beat documentary. I’m not sure if I should be thankful or bitter. Either way, I have decisions to make.
My opinions began with validation more than any other driving factor. I wanted validation by the industry and other professionals who knew so much more than I did about what good fiction was. We, as writers, all drown in the insecurities of our work and publishing is the means through which we hear, “You’ve got it!” Which is important due to the solitudinous act of writing.
But watching the documentary raised one important question for me. What is art? So, I did what I always do and went on a quote search. I found the following…
To labor in the arts for any reason other than love is prostitution. ~Steven Pressfield in The War of Art
An essential element of any art is risk. If you don’t take a risk then how are you going to make something really beautiful, that hasn’t been seen before? I always like to say that cinema without risk is like having no sex and expecting to have a baby. You have to take a risk. ~Francis Ford Coppola
Art suffers the moment other people start paying for it. ~Hugh MacLeod
This is the power of art: The power to transcend our own self-interest, our solipsistic zoom-lens on life, and relate to the world and each other with more integrity, more curiosity, more wholeheartedness.
“The first and most important thing an individual can do is to become an individual again, decontrol himself, train himself as to what is going on and win back as much independent ground for himself as possible” ~ William S. Burroughs
And I began to think. Why do I write? Well, I write because I have something to say. I write because the world makes sense in the context of stories. I write because people need to be heard and since all characters are aspects of real people, I can give them a voice when they can’t find their own. I write because…well…because it’s all I know. Which, of course, then raised a more challenging and disturbing question. If those are the reasons I write, why do I need validation? Why is acceptance by traditional publishing houses so important that I’d rather not send my stories into the world unless they can be through the societal accepted method?
And I found that I couldn’t answer.
As the debate raged in my head, I found that self-publishing appeals to my “stick-it-to-the-man” rebellious side, along with my “no-one-can-own-me” feminist side. Then, in this ever-changing society, thanks to the internet, we now have a think box of ideas that we exchange with people from around the world. The internet is like a great university without the price of tuition. And I want to be a part of this exchange of ideas through my stories. I want my ideas in the world as they are. Not in a watered down version edited for maximum sales potential by an editor who doesn’t quite get it.
And then, I found this quote…
Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.
This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse. Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose…
…Describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty – describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember. If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is not poverty and no poor, indifferent place. And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sounds – wouldn’t you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attentions to it. Try to raise up the sunken feelings of this enormous past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance. – And if out of this turning-within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not. Nor will you try to interest magazines in these works: for you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it. A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke
A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it.
Self-publishing, in my eyes, has now become the thought of a great experiment in which I could put myself into the world and not care whether validation is returned. Because, essentially, that’s the risk a self-published author takes. And perhaps risk without consideration what society will think, is the greatest indicator of an artist. Because true art isn’t about anyone else.
Thankfully, I’m not even close to having to make a decision. I still have edits and descriptions that need expanding, not to mention a time line element that needs adjusting. In my time, I’ll work out the kinks and give more thought to my choices. Even though I hate choices, I’m kind of grateful for this one. With that said, I’d love any feedback or opinions from other writers or readers. What are your thoughts on self-publishing vs. traditional publishing? What experience have you had? Do you have any further insight into this great debate?