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Art = Absurdity = Provocation = Contemplation = Wisdom = Love

Lionel Shriver’s “Humblebrag” Needs to Be Talked About

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Two authors on writing:

Lionel Shriver:  “If you really want to write, the last thing you want to be is a success.”

Cheryl Strayed:  “Write like a motherfucker.”

Lionel Shriver, author of the compelling We Need to Talk About Kevin, has written an essay at The New Republic:  How to Succeed as an Author: Give Up on Writing – The rancid smell of 21st century literary success. Lionel Shriver has won the Orange Prize, was a finalist for a National Book Award, and her landmark novel was made into a film starring Tilda Swinton. But in her essay she finds success “rancid” as she “humblebrags”  about hotels and travel and how “prizes are a particularly destructive time and emotion suck, since in most cases you don’t win.” Imagine the grueling nightmare of receiving a nomination and, gadzooks, attending the ceremony and not winning. I’m not sure whom she intends to enlighten, but for most writers the greater the lack of publication, usually, the greater the pain. I’m not saying her aggravations are not legitimate, tangible migraines come with success and the related celebrity, but c’mon, Ms. Shriver, thou doth condescend.

An unpublished writer who whines is tedious, but not nearly as tedious as a published whiner. On both ends of success or failure, the “it’s tough to be me” schtick plops into a mushy puddle of wrong. Writing has frustrations and rewards, just like life. Vanity, lack of self awareness, narcissism, respect, graciousness, they apply to all walks. Look at the single mother of two who has to work as a waitress not to mention that same person writing a novel. The woe of the elite is way different than every day suffering, but the latter deserves more empathy. How we handle success and failure is a personal statement.

Most if not all writers cram art between responsibility. I’m a full-time father of three and find time to write/read – half hour blips during soccer practice, guerrilla visits to coffee shops to open the laptop for ten minutes of production, books in the car, by the toilet etc., at night or early in the morning. Hotels? That’s a writing retreat. Long flights? To me it’d be 1-5 hours uninterrupted reading and writing. With success time crunches but with compensations.

Cheryl Strayed on the other hand has similar “problems” as Ms. Shriver, rare and hard earned success, a movie, etc. These perks allow her to enjoy a professional writing career. And she glows in gratitude.

So why does one writer derive inspiration from  success and the other degradation?

Two authors on their success:

“I have grown perversely nostalgic for my previous commercial failure,” Lionel Shriver

“A lot of artists give up because it’s just too damn hard to go on making art in a culture that by and large does not support its artists. But the people who don’t give up are the people who find a way to believe in abundance rather than scarcity. They’ve taken into their hearts the idea that there is enough for all of us, that success will manifest itself in different ways for different sorts of artists, that keeping the faith is more important than cashing the check, that being genuinely happy for someone else who got something you hope to get makes you genuinely happier too.”– Cheryl Strayed


Written by Caleb Powell

November 5, 2013 at 4:31 pm

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