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Friday, June 25, 2010

Are Words Like Art?

I have a friend who's a terrific artist. She makes small objects that you can hold in your hand or wear on your body, and she makes them of precious metals that she meticulously designs, crafts and polishes. She's particular, right down to making her own findings, which lots of jewelers buy in bulk because they're tiny and fussy, with itsy-bitsy tolerances...She makes lockets with tiny things in them, like the thorn of a rose. And she admits that what the world at large wants is, by and large, a hundred of something, preferably something that can be marked up a lot and still cost under fifty bucks.

And a few days ago I met a lovely woman, a writer, who told me she often writes for one cent a word. Later, she revised her estimate upwards (it would have been hard to go lower), to 2.5 cents a word. I wanted to cry. I wanted to quit. How, we asked each other, can you market your writing to people who don't want to pay for it? Who don't value it? And the answer is, you can't.

Like my friend can't sell a perfectly crafted gold locket to someone who wants a mood ring. Some people, a lot of people, want a ten dollar ring that changes color when their hands get warm or cold. They aren't interested in art, or what a locket can conceal, or the time and care that goes into making such a marvellous machine. Some people want words by the ten-thousand, and whether or not they're grammatical or poetic or well-researched or even true is completely immaterial. They're looking to fill pages with text, for as little outlay as possible. On the internet, some people think that's good business.

The trick for writers must be to find the ones who care about words, who think words matter and that there's still something left to say and someone to say it. It must be most writers' dream, to find someone who thinks writing is important enough to pay for it with the same promptitude, the same reverence the same assiduity that they would pay their monthly electric bill.

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