Diary of my dearest granddaddy Michael who also dedicated his life to writing.
As a life-long writer (I am now past eighty) who has made a living, if not a great success, I sometimes see the image of graduates at the graduation ceremony, joyfully clutching their diplomas. They have accomplished something perhaps not expected of them. And, for the most part, their names are called in alphabetical order, not by GPA. Writers, in much the same way, clutch a completed article or manuscript, poem or screenplay in much the same way. Something had been started, worked on and completed. The success is in the satisfaction of completion and not necessarily whether financial or critical success follows. Unlike some other professions, I am not sure those who aspire to write feel that unless they are “great” writers (“great” being critical acclaim and major sales)they are failures. But, such adjectives are applied or denied by critics who, for whatever reason, have been anointed with a platform to publicize their opinions. In some cases this appears much like that ancient Roman custom of thumbs up or down to spare or take the life of a gladiator.
My satisfaction as a writer comes from having an idea, developing it (or a number of ideas) getting the right words and phrases on paper (or computer) and offering it to the public. Even if the public and critics do not agree with the quality or thoughts, many a writer feels a joy at having completed something. I have a good many manuscripts and screenplays and TV scripts unsold and undesired. But, I still take pride in my having thought up the ideas and finished those thoughts.
Some writers, I include myself among them, use words and their origins as ammunition, bullets meant to make an impact on (and against) the world’s malaise. In such cases, critics are like UN observers, trying to establish rules that can satisfy and appease all sides.
Still it is important to realize that critics themselves, just as the authors they contemplate can lead ordinary lives and have ordinary ideas (as can somehow be ascribed to John Updike’s conventionalism). This does not make them “bad” or “meaningless” assayers of someone’s writing. I write with the idea that my characters and ideas are worthwhile, not “great” or “masterful.” I myself maybe more ordinary than I sometimes give myself credit for; nevertheless, like that student clutching his diploma, I feel good about having finished something. This is not like that old saw about what one calls the person graduating with the lowest grades from Medical School (“Doctor”), but that even if the syntax is raw and the paragraphs splayed in multi-directional points of view, it represents a completed work not everyone is able or willing to do. Acceptance by others is a bonus, but a feeling of self-worth is a priority.