|Calliope, muse of epic poetry
Image found here
I just won a little contest for singing praises of a product I believe in. I knew it would be a 50-word winner when I wrote it: it had original thought juxtaposed with the well-timed cliche; it featured me, a niche market different than the teeny-boppers and 20-somethings that usually hock it; and I wrote with confidence–the kind of silly chutzpah that gets you entering such a contest.
For my efforts I won some make-up. Win-win for the company: a low cost to send me a free sample of something I might end up using regularly. A real customer waxes rhapsodic over a product and creates a testimonial that yields more sales.
My writing fit a formula: it falls trippingly off the tongue and strains no one’s eyes with length or substance. For me, it was fun to write and easy as breathing. Because I’m a nerd, I like the exercise, too; forcing myself to say something meaningful in 50 words is a challenge.
Ad copy is a worthy form of writing–language that sings–but it’s the bubblegum pop of the writing world. It might amuse, it might put you in a trance, it might incite desire, it might give you a high. But you’re not transported or transformed.
“Sing to me of the man, Muse…” Forget Homer: the market doesn’t want to hear about your Muse, your inspiration, or your artistic license. Editors and agents don’t care if you love your original manuscript fueled by deep passion; they don’t care if you love your work like a baby. It is a product to be sold and writers must talk business and think business in order to do business.
So at what point do you stand firm and cling to a work that doesn’t fit the market formula? How do you know when your Muse is steering you right? When do you take the road of faith, and when do you set your sights on the market and rip up what you have? When is the market worth the starting over?
Some Things Are Better Left Alone, my husband sings. That song is far from bubblegum pop; it’s advice of definite substance. This is from his self-produced CD that’s won critical acclaim. He chose to go outside the market and work on the fringes.
I flip through my story, seeking depth. I polish here and there so words don’t trip my readers or get them reaching for eye drops. I want substance and style, I strive for quality and clarity that make the pages turn themselves.
Can you do both? Can you make your work market worthy and worthwhile for the ages? Of course, everyone says; look at so many classics and bestsellers that do both.
But let me ask it again: what I mean is, can YOU?