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Naomi Rose : Is Book Writing Commerce, or Is It Art?

Is It Commerce, or Is It Art?

When Writing a Book Is a Spiritual Practice, an Act of Devotion, and a Gift to Your Readers

By Naomi Rose

If you read the popular literature (i.e., books, emails, Internet promotions) on book writing, you may get the feeling that writing a book is all about producing a product. This orientation, which is rather hugely represented, suggests that ~ at least for non-fiction books ~ authors should know their market before they even start writing, so that they can tune their writing to what readers want and will buy.

Obviously, this is a purely commercial orientation. And while I have nothing against the wish to be successful in the marketplace ~ I encourage that, because this kind of success supports us to keep doing what we're doing, and also brings to the reading public things that could truly be of deep service ~ there is a difference between serving the public and playing to the lowest common denominator.

So I seem to be talking, here about the balance of being true to yourself in your writing, and at the same time communicating something that's of real value to your readers.

I recently read an interesting book called The Art of Business, published by Berrett-Koehler (a San Francisco-based publisher with a socially responsible mission). As a person to whom the arts come more easily than business, I wanted to understand what the connections might be. There were some, happily; but what stands out in my mind at the moment is one of the differences. Business, said the authors, starts with the end user in mind: "What does the customer want? We'll tailor our product to that." So it is entirely results-oriented. How one arrives at the result, and the experience of the process enroute, is incidental (if considered at all) to the ultimate goal of coming up with a popular, saleable product.

In the arts, however, it goes in the other direction. The goal is to allow the art to emerge ~ to be true to it, and to the inner impulse that is behind its creation. Afterwards, when the creation is felt to be complete in the artist's eyes, then the process of bridging that vision to a public reception comes in. So the centering is different. Here, the center lies within the artist. In the product orientation, the center lies in the satisfaction of the customer, for the sake (primarily) of sales.

I bring this up because I think that people who have never written a book before (which comprises most of my clients) already start out with a vulnerability ~ really, a good and necessary vulnerability, to themselves and to something larger than themselves ~ but this vulnerability can also cloud their better judgment. Especially in the absence of the experience of writing a book, and therefore in the absence of the kind of confidence that experience can bring, they can become susceptible to the fear that no one will want to read what they write, and they should "do something" to it to make it more palatable/saleable/publishable, etc. This insecurity is then amplified by the marketplace's idea of creation-for-sales.

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