Friday, 29 April 2016

Illogical Positivism: N M Browne

A J Ayer ( I think) made the point that there is nothing you can say that would disprove the existence of God to a person who believes in him: belief is unverifiable. (It’s a long time since I read his Language Truth and Logic but bear
with me on this.) Along the same lines there is nothing you can say to a writer that will make us satisfied: satisfaction is unattainable. Yeah, I know these two statements are only stylistically related, but in both cases there are no objective facts that can change the opinion of the believer or the writer. I’ll explain.
 If you write a book and you can’t sell either directly or to an agent/publisher then you are sad and believe you have no talent. Even your mother and best friend saying how much they love it is unlikely to change your mind. If you sell the book to the agent/publisher, but not to the top selling retail outlets you are still be sad and believe you have no talent. You tell yourself that your work is too classy to be commercial, but you don’t really believe it. If you sell the book to the agent/publisher, the top selling retail outlets and very few readers buy it then – yes, you can see where I’m going here – you are sad and believe you have no talent. You can blame the promotion, the cover design, the unfortunate release date and the declining attention spans of the populace who can’t take in anything longer than 140 characters but methinks you doth protest too much. Even writers who sell books by the shed-load to readers the world over are sad and believe they have no talent because they fail to gain literary prizes. Then the ones whose books have achieved everything, like the famous, castle-inhabiting writer of a mega selling children's series, think it’s all probably a bit of a fluke and try to write something else under an assumed name so that those books will fail to sell and then they can be sad and believe they have no talent. We are as a body a tragic, if self selecting, group.
Occasionally you meet arrogant writers who believe the opposite, but as a rule of thumb (in my humble opinion etc) pretty well everyone who does this is either American (and constitutionally obliged to be excessively confident,) a certain type of privileged male, and/or quasi illiterate. They are rarely right. Most writers who are any good, recognise all the ways they could be better and those who think they are brilliant, don’t really grasp what it is to be good. There will be exceptions and if you are an American, a certain type of man or quasi illiterate (and managing somehow to make it through this contorted prose) don’t have a go at me, I am already sad and know I have no talent. 
I am impressed by illogical positivism (You go girl! Yay!) but don't try to cheer me up. Once you have accepted the logic of negativity, it frees up a lot of time for writing.


11 comments:

Andrew Crofts said...

This post is so painfully true I think I might have it made into a tapestry and hang it over my bed. Which suggests, N.M.Browne, that you may be a talented writer after all.

Bill Kirton said...

Loved it, N.M. In the best absurdist traditions, you're clearly descended from Sisyphus. For some reason, it reminded me of Beckett's 'Malone Dies' (I think - but I'm too lazy to look it up). If I remember correctly, and in case you don't know it, Malone's in bed with only a notebook, stub of pencil and his stick. He'd love to know what's going on outside his room, in the corridor, in the street. Then, realisation strikes and there's an elegiac, hope-infused passage about how he could use his stick as a sort of punting pole because the bed's on castors. He could push it to the window, look out, see the outside world...

Then there's a wee gap in the narrative and the next section begins 'I've lost my stick'.

Wendy Jones said...

Brilliantly put. This is so true. Add to that anyone who does manage to sell shed-loads of books think it will all come crashing to a halt any day now. I think you have summed up the feelings of all writers perfectly

Jan Needle said...

Damn - I should never have discovered sailing!

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Don't entirely agree with this. I don't beat myself up about the craft of writing and I'm neither American, nor male, nor illiterate. I'd agree that success in any area of life - especially extreme success - tends to breed 'imposter syndrome' - especially among women, sadly.'Why am I here when other people can do it better?' And as anyone who has ever taught creative writing knows, the least competent are often the most confident and vice versa. But if - as professionals - we can accept that we may be 'good enough' in our chosen field, then, like being a good enough parent, that should be and often is enough. If we really believed all the put-downs along the way and added chronic self doubt, even in the face of a certain amount of success, then we might as well give up and go and do something that makes us happier. Throughout my whole switchback of a career, it honestly never occurred to me to think that I had no talent - although I also learned, sometimes the hard way, to acknowledge what I could and couldn't do, what I wasn't very competent at. What I should learn how to do better and what were not and never would be my strong suits. We all have wobbles - everyone does. I'm sure there are some days when a brain surgeon, mid op, thinks 'what the hell am I doing here?' But I think this is different from believing in your heart that whatever you do is no good. And who, in such circumstances, would ever venture to self publish?

Mari Biella said...

I actually think, on the whole, it's probably a pretty good thing if we do beat ourselves up occasionally - that lack of satisfaction spurs us to try to do better. I'm deeply suspicious of the over-confident, too, because what motivation is there for them to try harder? It's hard to strike a balance, but perhaps Catherine's third group - those who accept that they're good enough - is close. Then again, I too long ago accepted the "logic of negativity"... :-)

Lydia Bennet said...

I encounter a great many people, esp on facebook, who are totally confident that they are geniuses or at least they give that impression... I do recognise some of what you say, imposter syndrome is quite often apparent in writers especially women, and also, I tend to undervalue my own achievements. Something which seemed out of reach and amazing, which I then achieve, makes me feel that it couldn't have been all that amazing since I've managed it, so I then raise the bar and move on to the next thing. I enjoyed reading the post though!

Enid Richemont said...

Yes I can relate to this, and especially recently, when I completely re-wrote/edited etc etc my long-ago first adult novel, because encountering that starry-eyed much younger self so totally in love with words has been chastening.

Umberto Tosi said...

I know this feeling. I've been working on my suicide note for years, but I just can't get it right.

Susan Price said...

I'm sort of with Catherine, in as much as I've reached a state of mind which says, 'Who cares anyway? - Lord, what fools these mortals be.'

Dennis Hamley said...

There is so much here which echoes inside my brain. Yet I found Cattherine's post persuasive as well. If wwe can look at ourselves objectively, I don't see how we can doubt ovur talent. We're members of this blog for a start and there are a lot who would like to take our places. That should cheer us up a bit. Anyway, I've just received a validation of a sort. Someone has asked, through an agency, that I would ghost-write his youung adult fantasy for him. Now why would he do that? I don't know but I feel a rush of self-justification coming on