Achieving our intent


‘The writer’s intention hasn’t anything to do with what he achieves.  The intent to earn money or the intent to be famous or the intent to be great doesn’t matter in the end.  Just what comes out.’

Lillian Hellman

Do we have an ‘intent’ when we set out to write something? I guess in the back of my mind, I have an intent to make a living as a writer, but it seems to be secondary to simply writing. I’m not really interested in fame. The older I get and the more I see of ‘famous’ people, the less I find I want to be like them, or have my life taken over in that way. Fame seems to come for some very silly reasons. I’m sure we can all name any number of current ‘celebrities’ who have done nothing noteworthy, other than that they seem to be famous for being famous. People who are actually doing something seem to be vastly less interesting to the public. Being obnoxious, wealthy, or pretty seem to be the main criteria for fame now.

Making money: You bet I’d like to. I have to fund my Tarot addiction somehow. A career as a writer would have the side benefit of freeing me from the tyranny (not to mention the deathly boredom) of life as a corporate wage slave. More power to you if you can find excitement in tracking finances and sales forecasting. Personally I’d rather stick pins in my eyes. How did business become so bogged down in paperwork and spreadsheets? Business used to be about making something that other people wanted to trade for. Now it seems to consist of sitting in meetings where people expend a great deal of energy arguing, nothing gets decided, except that more meetings are deemed necessary. Seriously, if you want to know what my life is like, just read Dilbert.

So we’re left with what comes out. Words, and lots of them. Am I trying to be ‘great’? OK, I’m not going to lie about this. Of course I’d like to be a ‘great’ writer. Who wants to be bad at something? Not everyone agrees on what makes something ‘great’, though. As in any art, some will love it, some will hate it. There are people who hate Monet. We all know what they say about opinions. My only concern then is whether or not I am able to express what I’m trying to express. If I succeed in that, whether anyone else loves it or hates it, is all that matters to me.

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12 thoughts on “Achieving our intent

  1. Right around the time you were posting this blog today, I was listening to NPR on the car radio, and of course you know I can never hear Junot Diaz speak – in person or pre-recorded – without catching some fantastically little quotable quote. This one clicked, most relevantly, with what you’re posting about today:

    “As an artist,” he said, “if you JUST want people to like you, there’s a thousand other careers for that”

    This from a guy who wrote a very famous book. Clearly he had an intention, but it wasn’t about getting famous, and since he worked on the book for 11 years and had a day job in the meanwhile (his day job is similar to mine, except of course he teaches at MIT and I’m pretty sure it’s a tenured position!) I can’t imagine he did it to get rich, either. Rock on, my friend!

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  2. Ha, talk about synchronicity! I love it, he’s so right.

    And if he wasn’t tenured prior to his book, I bet he was pretty quickly after he got the Pulitzer 😉

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  3. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, the question is would you rather be known as a bestselling author or a literary writer. Granted there are some bestselling authors that write good literature (Anne Rice springs to mind since I’ve finally started reading Interview with the Vampire) but for most there is no literary merit to a bestseller, just a mindless read. I’ve been writing a blog entry about it called Art Vs Money but now you beat me to it 😛

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    1. Great minds and all that? 🙂 I say go with it, do your post. I’m sure you’ll bring up stuff I didn’t touch on.

      Incredibly, I still haven’t read Anne Rice! I agree with most bestsellers being fluff. It’s gotten to the point that if I see something on a ‘bestseller’ list, I won’t pick it up! Generally it’s more about the subject matter not interesting me, but my reading time is so limited, I try to stick to books that have some literary merit. I figure reading good writing can only help to improve my own, but if it’s poorly written it probably won’t hold my attention long anyway.

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      1. Good, I’m not the only one 😉 ,though I’m really enjoying the book. But I tend to agree with you about the bestseller lists, I’m more inclined to go straight to the classics section in a book shop than to look at the new releases or best sellers. As for the entry on Bestsellers vs. Literature I think I will leave it for a bit so it doesn’t look like I copied you 😛

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  4. I certainly wouldn’t turn down the money, and I don’t fault the people who know how to crank out language in return for cash – it’s still honest labor, after all – but I’m with Didge: the idea of fame for its own sake doesn’t appeal to me in the least. In fact, one of the things I envy about successful writers is that most of them, even the ones who do very well, can still go to the supermarket unmolested – most people only have a vague idea of what their favorite authors look like. I’ve seen David Sedaris in person, but if I were sitting next to him on the subway, I might not even notice.

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    1. And there’s a place for fluff. God knows I loved the Harry Potter books and I wouldn’t classify them as ‘high art’ but they were fun and funny and just a ripping good yarn.

      And for all I know I’ve walked right past Ursula Le Guin downtown somewhere and didn’t know it! I’m sure she prefers it that way, being able to have a normal life in our funky little town. Keep Portland Weird! 🙂 (that’s the unofficial motto)

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  5. Do you guys have a “Weird Oregon” franchise out there? The new Weird NJ came out last week, just as I submitted final grades, and I am enjoying it immensely.

    Speaking of good writing and a good yarn, I just finished “Inherent Vice” and it was nutty and marvellous – the whole thing reads like a stoner’s flahback, yet he manages to reconnect all the threads, blow a kiss to the ’60’s, salute all those hardboiled detective stories of the ’40’s, and wink slyly at those of us who have survived into the Digital Age. After solving any number of convoluted interwoven mysteries, Doc, the protagonist, finds himself smogged in on the L.A. freeway, knowing he’s on his way, but not quite sure to where:

    “He crept along till he finally found another car to settle in behind. After a while in his rearview mirror he saw somebody else fall in behind him. He was in a convoy of unknown size, each car keeping the one ahead in taillight range, like a caravan in a desert of perception, gathered awhile for safety in getting across a patch of blindness. It was one of the few things he’d ever seen anybody in this town, except hippies, do for free.

    Doc wondered how many people he knew had been caught out tonight in this fog, and how many were indoors fogbound in front of the tube or in bed just falling asleep. Someday … there’d be phones as standard equipment in every car, maybe even dashboard computers. People could exchange numbers and addresses and life stories and form alumni associations to gather once a year at some bar off a different freeway exit each time, to remember the night they set up a temporary commune to help each other hme through the fog… maybe he’d have to just keep driving, down past Long Beach, down through Orange County, and San Diego, and across a border where nobody could tell anymore in the fog who was Mexican, who was Anglo, who was anybody. Then again, he might run out of gas before that happened, and have to leave the caravan, and pull over on the shoulder and wait. For whatever would happen. For a forgotten joint to materialize in his pocket. For the
    CHP to come by and choose not to hassle him. For a restless blonde in a Stingray to stop and offer him a ride. For the fog to burn away, and for something else this time, somehow, to be there instead.”

    keep moving gang – there’s SOMETHING out there!

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  6. Wow, that excerpt is amazing! I’m going to go order the book right now! “…a caravan in a desert of perception.” I love it.

    I think there is a Weird Oregon magazine, pretty sure I saw one at B&N last time I was there. Portland just prides itself (well, those of us who appreciate weirdness do) on being more than a little left of the mainstream. It is a strange little city: big enough to be called a city, but still hanging on by its fingernails to a hometown attitude. They have bumper stickers now that say “Keep Portland Weird” although there are of course detractors to the whole idea.

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