Inspired by a facebook conversation. (All identities will be protected, because I like the way it makes everything sound mysterious..)
Friend A: Just rediscovered MGMT. kids and electric feel haven’t lost their magic..
Friend B (ie Token Naysayer): In 15 years we can look back on MGMT as one of 76,532 bands of the noughties that put out three good singles and received column inch after column inch of gushing praise before disappearing into a somewhat overcrowded holding space for a potential VH1 special on next big things that never were.
My immediate response was TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. The one hit wonder that is one of my favourite books. Can we honestly say Harper Lee was any less a writer than Agatha Christie who churned out somewhere around 70 books? Or even Stephen King or Terry Pratchett? Or what about if we held her up against Jackie Collins, author of 29 novels? The new sensation Amanda Hocking has clocked up around fifteen. Does knowing that diminish Lee in your eyes?
I adore Christie, and Pratchett I can at least understand the attraction of, however the latter three just aren’t for me. Its not a put down. Plenty obviously disagree. But surely if King had only put out Carrie he would not be the lesser writer? If Collins had begun and ended with The Stud? Quantity should not be the measure of an artist.
Then I came across another conversation on a writing site (okay yes I went back… we knew I would..)
Writer A: What inspired your story?
Writer B: I’d sometimes thought about it. I like books and reading and thought it would be pretty cool. But I never really had anything to say. Then I read this book and it was just so amazing, and I was sitting around waiting for the next in the series and just had this epiphany..
Writer B is in their late twenties and has been working on said epiphany for over two years now, uninterrupted by any others.
When I decided aged 25 it was time to start writing seriously, I had three ideas off the top of my head (as in, in that moment) and just started on all of them. I have five books finished, five I am working on, and too many others I can’t even let myself think about. I am not boasting, mostly as I am not saying all of them aren’t unpublishable shit, but also because I always presumed this to be the same for all writers. We see the world in stories.
Last weekend there was an aerial display At the End of the World (where I live). I’d forgotten all about it and was brought to a round-eyed halt by a low flying put-put trailing hazy grey over the red tiled cottage roofs… For me that’s a story. The smoke against the blue, the worry battling with wonder, the face of the pilot taking form even as the sun winks off the windscreen, blinding him from me.
If we can’t measure a writer by quantity, I’m equally not sure we can measure them by quality. Simply because it is so subjective. One man’s Joyce, is another mans.. well..Joyce..! So how do you define a writer?
I’ve always had a slightly tricky relationship with publication, more perhaps than the usual, but though I have often wondered if I would make the leap to print, I still cannot think of myself as anything other than a writer. And I have done so since I was nine years old. For me, as I said, it was a state of being, a way of looking at the world. It so defines me that I often think it is this, more than anything, that makes me so afraid to make the last leap – because if I fail I fail at being me..
Clearly not every writer is the same.
So how do you measure a writer? Maybe you don’t. Maybe you should only ever measure the writing.
For this, regardless of what came before or whether anything will come after, I am very glad there were some folk who called themselves MGMT.. enjoy.