Art by Valentin Fischer
DOES YOUR EARLY WORK STAIN YOUR PORTFOLIO OF BOOKS?
Mars Dorian asked me:
"Hey Ksenia, your advice and blog has always helped me in the best way possible, all things book related. I've worked four months on a novel and finished it two months ago. Proofreaders/editors went over it, so it's ready to get (self) published if it wasn't for my high standard that isn't a 100% satisfied with it anymore. It's still a good novel, but it's not my best. Question. Would you personally publish a piece of work you put a lot of effort in, even if it's not your best work, or do you think it would 'stain' your portfolio of books? But then again, every book makes you a better writer, so maybe I'm paranoid. I'm still wrestling with this decision..."
"If you plan to grow as a writer, you shouldn't be afraid to let your earlier work out into the world. Years will go by, and you might cringe at it. But then more years will go by, and you will cringe at what you thought was your best work. And so it will continue. And what is your best work, anyway? What does ""best mean? It's a relative term. You have to compare something to something to see what's better or worse, but you yourself will change over the years, and your opinion will change, there is no help for it.
So, ultimately, "Does your early work stain your portfolio of books?" is the wrong question to ask.
The right question is, "Are you willing to strip in public?"
Are you willing to show all that you are and were and will be? Because your books are your guts on paper, nothing more. Well, do you want people to see you from all sides? The pretty you and the ugly you? And what's this notion of putting up your best work out there anyway? Why this perfection? Fuck that. We're perfect in how we're imperfect. That's precisely why we read books. We get courage from those who were able to admit to their humanity, all of it, the bad and the good, and learned to love it for what it is and shared it. If you can't do this, why even write?
People will sniff out a fake. People are not stupid. It might take them some time, and your perfect facade might hold for a while, but once they rip it off, they will resent you. Because we all do stuff that we're not proud of later. And what kind of an artist are you if you can't admit that? What's there to gain from you? To learn? How can you inspire?
I say, embrace your mistakes. Learn from them, make more mistakes, bigger mistakes, learn from them too. And share it all, for all to see. That's what true art is about. Do we wish people didn't see our scribbles and doodles when we were five? No. We happily share them and laugh at them good-naturedly. "See? This is what I wrote when I was five."
Why can't we do the same thing for when we were twenty-five? Thirty-five? Forty-five?
This artificially groomed author image that is flawlessly intelligent and wise and perfect is bullshit. Awards, prizes mean nothing. If you're still under the delusion that there is meaning to things, wake up. There is none, and you're only wasting your time on fooling yourself that there is.
Is a writer not a writer if his/her work has not been on the New York Times bestselling list? Is a writer not a writer of his/her books have never been sold in a bookstore? Is a writer not a writer if his/her stories have never left the drawer? Sure he's a writer. Sure she's a writer. He or she might be a bigger writer than all of them together, those out there with shiny editorial reviews and movies made from their books and what have you.
One does not need an audience to be an artist.
Art either lives in you, or you kill it. It's your choice, not someone else's. No critic can ever put value to your work. You determine it, nobody else. Then why should you be scared to show people what's inside you? What is art if not letting those who want to see, to see? To hold? To connect? To be assured that they're not alone all fucked up in this fucked up life, that there are other fucked up people just like them?
So I say, don't worry about what people will think. Worry about not sharing enough of yourself in your lifetime. Life is cruel. You might die tomorrow. You never know. And your kids, and your family, and your friends would've loved it for you to give them your all. Don't rob them of you, and don't worry about putting up this perfect mask on your writing portfolio. Who gives a shit? Write and share with abandon. You'll be richer for it.
I love you."