Yesterday, Shawn Smucker posted about Annie Dillard’s statement about self-promotion that is on her website:
I’m sorry. I’ve never promoted myself or my books, but I used to give two public readings a year.
Now I can no longer travel, can’t meet with strangers, can’t sign books but will sign labels with SASE, can’t write by request, and can’t answer letters. I’ve got to read and concentrate.
Shawn’s post prompted some really angry responses from folks who thought her statement “smacks of arrogance and self-indulgence” and “She just doesnâ€™t want to help people.”
With all due respect, I have to disagree with these folks. I think Dillard may be on to something here. And before you stop reading, let me explain why.
Today, I was online for at least 10 hours. During that time, you know how much time I spent writing – 45 minutes. You know how much time I spent retweeting, encouraging other writers, and “building my platform” – the other 9 hours and 15 minutes. Something is wrong here.
Of course, part of my issue is that social media is distracting, but the other part of the issue is that “helping our community of writers,” as many of Shawn’s commenters wisely say is a good thing, takes a HELL OF A LOT OF TIME. To comment on blogs, to share advice, to think of blog posts that will be meaningful for other people – this is a time-consuming, energy-sucking business. So I don’t blame Dillard. She’s being true to her craft. I respect that.
For those who may say she could help some if she wanted to do so, she could, but how would she choose? As a teacher, I came to just have a “no excused absences” policy because really, who am I to decide if a grandmother’s illness is excused but a day spent sleeping because you worked third-shift isn’t? Dillard would have to come up with some complex algorithm for deciding who she would and would not “help” with signatures and social media status comments. If I were her and could afford to do so, I’d probably do the same.
Plus, whose to say she isn’t helping us, her community of writers, with her very writing? Like Shawn, my favorite writing text is hers: The Writing Life. In those pages she has given me more wisdom than she could ever give in an email. In For the Time Being, she gave me the style I had been searching to find for years. I don’t really need blog posts from her to get her help.
Finally, we don’t know what her position really is, as a person, and it’s really none of our business. Perhaps she’s sick or caring for an ill loved one. We have no idea. But we could, at least, give her the benefit of the doubt and trust that she is, as we all are, doing the best that she can.
So forgive me, my beloved fellow writers when I say this, but please, let’s cut the woman some slack. Yes, she is in a privileged position, a position – if we are honest enough to admit it – we are probably jealous of (I know I am), but she earned that position by writing really good books, not by retweeting witty blog posts.
We might all do well to learn from her rather than resent her.
What do you think? Is Dillard wrong? What’s the balance between “building a platform” and actually doing our work? Would you make the same choice as she did if you could?