Let’s Resist the Culture of Idolatry in American Literature

Monica Byrne

photo by Donald E. Byrne, III

In a bold and insightful piece by writer Monica Byrne, she discusses how, as an emerging writer, she created a list of her favorite authors titled “My Idols.” But she scratched that out, then wrote “My Models.” Then, finally, “My Peers.” Why?

… I realized the difference between admiration and idolatry. How I placed the famous writer’s innate talent beyond my grasp. … There was nothing essentially different about me and my capabilities, except time and practice. However, I notice a strong culture of idolatry in American literature that restricts writers’ sense of possibility for themselves—as if their idols produce nothing but genius unapproachable work; and also, as if it’s not even conceivable they could ever be as good. But it’s just not true.

Read the entire piece—inspiring and honest. And when you’re done, check out these other essays on writing over at the latest Glimmer Train bulletin:

 

Posted in Creativity + Inspiration.
Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (March 2018).

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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8 Comments on "Let’s Resist the Culture of Idolatry in American Literature"

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Christina Katz
I totally agree. I think social media is helping us do a bit better with this, especially when otherwise famous writers are willing to show themselves as real people. But generally speaking, the culture of putting books and authors on a pedestal is alive and well, and it’s probably slowing down the revolutionary idea that maybe, just maybe anyone could write a good book if they had the support, tools, and conviction required…which is what I believe. The problem is when folks believe they deserve the result of the great book without investing the long, hard work. However, as it… Read more »
Jeff Shear
Monica makes an important and entertaining point, but I have a different take. Typically, when the cocktail chat comes around to the job of a writer, someone will surely will the point that they have a book in them. “If they only had the time.” Ask that same person if they could pitch in Yankee stadium or play violin, and you would draw a laugh. We all know that story. Truth is, not everyone can sing opera. It takes a special voice, which is a demonstrable gift. I, for instance, would never presume to have the voice of a great… Read more »
Jeff Shear
Monica makes an important and entertaining point, but I have a different take. Typically, when the cocktail chat comes around to the job of a writer, someone will surely make the point that they have a book in them. “If they only had the time.” Ask that same person if they could pitch in Yankee stadium or play violin, and you would draw a laugh. We all know that story. Truth is, not everyone can sing opera. It takes a special voice, which is a demonstrable gift. I, for instance, would never presume to have the voice of a great… Read more »
Greg Strandberg

Good quote.

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Don Middendorf

Literary genius is the ability of one mind, to create something so true that it can be understood with striking clarity by another mind. Those minds who can see the literary genius of another, have access to that same truth, are capable of broadcasting it themselves. Beauty is the definition given to images that bring joy, created in the mind that perceives it, not the retina, it can be transmitted the other way. Also, monkeys, typewriters, Shakespeare, someone might deconstruct my rambling madness, to find some brilliant truth previously locked away inside them.

Michael

Thanks for sharing this, what a great piece. While your idols can offer inspiration, it really doesn’t help you run your business as an author. You’ve got to set realistic goals. Look to those that are a few years ahead of you. I wrote more about this (with a video) here: “Your Goals Offer Guidance” http://bit.ly/GBP-04.

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[…] Writer Monica Byrne notices a strong culture of idolatry in American literature that unnecessarily restricts writers' sense of possibility for themselves.  […]

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