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32 ounces of anxiety in a 30-page book
At Big Other, Amber Sparks wonders if the rapidly accelerating pace of the write-publish-hype cycle isn’t fundamentally changing the way writers work and, by extension, our written output as a whole. In a piece titled “The Influence of Anxiety: The Modern Writer’s Neverending Race,” Sparks begins with a hugely productive week, only to have her feelings of accomplishment wither when scanning the unstoppable stream of her peers’ new readings, new books, new talks, new articles, and new interviews on Facebook and Twitter.
We’re now a few years removed from needing stories about how social technologies are changing the way we interact, and bemoaning other writers’ self-promotions is a few hundred years’ more past its “relevant by” date. So what’s remarkable about Sparks’s take is that it isn’t a cautionary tale about the slippery slope of the techno-literate elite corrupting our hallowed institutions with their perpetual hype machines [this sentence needs a gif of Glenn Beck crying]– it’s just a pretty accurate summation of what’s up, without any of the finger-pointing or name-naming that usually accompanies such pieces.
Now it’s publish, publish, publish, be constantly, constantly publishing, and better be constantly writing about your writing and talking about your writing and while none of that is inherently a bad thing (and it obviously works for some people) does it make anyone else but me a nervous wreck? I would suspect, yes, it does.
Sparks has confidence in her work despite the onslaught of the competition; in fact, the competition isn’t even aware that it’s competing, at least not directly. No one on Facebook is deliberately trying to psych you out before your big deadline or toilet papering your yard while you’re out at a reading. The problem is that this anxiety occupies the same space where the writing is supposed to originate– some nameless, internal, protected place. As people become more aware of how what we put into our bodies affects our performance, it shouldn’t be any surprise that running on anxiety produces the mental equivalent of chugging a Big Gulp to get you through a jog when what you really planned to do with your life was run marathons.
But despite that pride I hate the way the modern writing world works. I feel endless, ceaseless pressure and I doubt I’m the only one. I suspect more people write flash fiction because it’s fast to dash off a story and get it published. I suspect people write shorter books as well as shorter stories, and don’t take the time to do the research and the editing and the soul-searching that should accompany any artistic endeavor. I suspect people send off stories that aren’t that great, or as great as they could be, because they are desperate to increase their output. I suspect some people dash off a first novel because an agent generally won’t take you without one.
The thrill of competition might be a quick boost in the short-term, but it’s not sustainable.