The Antisocial Writer

Meghan Tifft pretending to enjoy having her picture taken
Meghan Tifft pretending to enjoy having her picture taken

In The Atlantic of August 2, novelist Meghan Tifft published An Introverted Writer’s Lament. Her piece begins:

“Whether we’re behind the podium or awaiting our turn, numbing our bottoms on the chill of metal foldout chairs or trying to work some life into our terror-stricken tongues, we introverts feel the pain of the public performance.”

The piece goes on to describe the horrors of prostrating yourself in front of the buying public, and being coerced into participating in social media.

It reminded me of an interview with Bret Easton Ellis, of American Psycho fame, in The Paris Review of Spring 2012. Easton Ellis said:

“I don’t write book reviews. I don’t sit on panels about the state of the novel. I don’t go to writer conferences. I don’t teach writing seminars…. I don’t think about myself, as I think most writers do, as progressing toward some ideal of greatness … All I know is that I write the books I want to write. All that other stuff is meaningless to me.”

Bret Easton Ellis not at a writing seminar
Bret Easton Ellis not at a writing seminar

One of the main reasons Easton Ellis left New York, he says, is because when he received invitations to literary events, he realized he’d rather “cut [his] head off with a knife” than attend. American Psycho indeed.

I guess, for some, the social butterflying of the literary life is a bit of a drag. Many of us would be perfectly happy sitting in our offices writing and never venturing out to anything literary, let alone squawking and sparring in the Twitterverse.

My view? I’ve only recently joined facebook, I don’t Tweet, and I don’t do any of those instagram, snapchat, instachat, vine-o-gram things. But I have been on dozens of speaking tours. At first, they are marvelous. You get flown to places and put up in hotels. People buy you drinks. People have read your book.

Then after a couple of years, it turns into “Oh God, another airport.” “Room service is a bit slow.” “Why isn’t the audience laughing at my hilarious jokes? Where is the audience?” Like all vivid dreams–and fame and fortune earned through writing ranks fairly high on the vivid-o-meter–the reality eventually fades to grey.

Back to Tifft. She concedes that doing all these events and having all this interaction is “a way of talking back, creating and sustaining a community around writing.” But let’s be honest – the most interesting parts of her essay are when she’s whining. She calls the merry-go-round of writers’ social events a “variety show,” and asks, “… since when does making art require participation in any community, beyond the intense participation that the art itself is undertaking?”

It’s a great question, but, unlike most rhetorical questions, there’s an answer. Making art requires no participation in any community. But there’s a different answer for professional writers. Since when did you have to participate in a writing/reading community? Since around the time that facebook and youtube and social media in general began reducing the distance between producers and consumers.

If you want to be a successful fiction writer and be invisible and stay home, I have a suggestion for you. Buy a time machine, turn the dial to 1998, put your feet up, and repeat the mantra: “I’m a genius, I’m a genius, I’m a genius.” Thomas Pynchon and J.D. Salinger will be next door cheering you on.


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