Goods Versus Good

Goods Versus Good

A constributor at Science Fiction Writers was kind enough to direct my attention to John Scalzi’s article “A Moment of Financial Clarification” the other day.

“…I have been both shameless and unapologetic about the commercial aspects of my writing, whether it’s me working as a writing/editing consultant for business or writing accessible novels. … The money I make from writing allows me to do nothing other than writing. So it helps to make a lot of it if at all possible.”

Now, to be completely fair to Scalzi, he goes on to write that money is not the only factor he takes into account when choosing what to write, how to write, and how to market, but even this, in my opinion, doesn’t circumvent the problem with the sentiment in the quote above.

The crux of Scalzi’s article is that the phrase “no one writes to get rich” is wrong because some writers, like him, do write to get rich. He claims it as one of his many goals. Therefore, on a literal level, the statement is false.

But taking the statement literally circumvents its actual intent, which I would characterize as: “writing that really matters (it endures as a lasting cultural touchstone; it shines light on an important social issue; it allows its readers to deeply share in the human experience of its writer) is largely produced by writers who value the quality of their writing above the popular gimmicks that will result in higher sales.”

But of course, the above sentiment does not work as a pithy retort during conversation. Hence, the shorter, if less literally accurate version.

To a large degree, I feel that writers who want to express something deep and profound about the human experience (literary artists) can and should coexist peacefully alongside those who wish to be popular and make lots of money (literary entertainers). But I perceive another problem, mostly cultural. Ursula K Le Guin characterized it as the “confusion of goods with good” in the afterword to her novel The Farthest Shore. I would characterize the sentiment thus: capitalism in our society has metastacized to the point where a majority of individuals fail to draw any distinction between a commercial product’s monetary success and any other kind of value (social, ethical, cultural, to name a handful). For many, the only measure of a thing’s worth is the amount of commercial activity it generates.

For me personally, I would rather extricate my persoanl need for income (and by proxy shelter, food, clothing, etc.) from my writing. Being able to do nothing but write doesn’t mean a damn thing if I don’t wholly believe in what it is I’m producing.

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