A number of years ago I was asked “Are you someone’s favorite person?” In a very short period of time this question–what surely could be best described as a meme–came up again and again in disparate contexts. Sometime later, I found out that Miranda July had released a video called “Are You the Favorite Person of Anybody?” in an early (maybe first?) issue of Wholphin, and I don’t know whether she herself coined the expression, or whether (more likely) she encountered it and took it a step further than just asking those around her. But there it was.
Now, the question has that kind of smug sincerity that appeals to precocious, artsy college students struggling against the equally inane and self-defeating hipster irony that surrounds us (what can we do against it?), but it’s nonetheless a “sticky”–to use some web marketing lingo–question. Like it or not, it did cause me to try and honestly answer it. Happily, I was in a relationship at the time (mothers don’t count, of course), and so I could nod smugly, after a pause, at the smug questioners. Not only that, but my heart sank in an admittedly cheap way at the thought of those whose predicament (or fundamental unloveability?) precluded an answer in the affirmative. It’s one of those crappy questions, frankly, that over-simplifies basically every important element of the equation it’s coyly trying to underscore.
And yet, and yet…
So for some reason the title of this post popped into my head yesterday. All the reservations stated above about the formulation notwithstanding, it was something I couldn’t really shake. What would it mean to be someone’s favorite writer? And would having that as a goal affect any of the writerly decisions I make, or either a level of editorial minutia or a grand scale of career trajectory? Is it okay to make writing, make books, that people read and say, “Yes, yes, that was an adequate book. A solid effort. I would compare that with any number of other adequate books–to some even favorably.” Is it okay to make writing that one reads oneself and finds adequate? Is it enough to be good? If not, does it do any good to ask oneself superficial, AA-level-of-sophistication questions like the one above if it keeps one’s ambitions from slowly, imperceptibly degrading?
2 thoughts on “Are You Someone’s Favorite Writer?”
shya: this is a hilarious and painful question! certainly, i am no one’s favorite writer. it’s more than enough if someone reads my books at all, or rather, it’s enough if someone has bought my books!
but of course, this post deals with much more than our simultaneous solipsism & insecurity. should we write just adequately? my knee-jerk reaction is: of course not!
i have this conversation with my partner all the time. he criticizes me for wanting to have “a name.” but to the core of it, if we aren’t writing & publishing to have “a name,” at least to the whole 10 of us who are reading/publishing/reviewing each other, why do we write & publish? writing itself is one thing. people write for all sorts of readings, but we PUBLISH to be read, to gain that “name,” we write with the goal of publishing, to grow that reader-base who will acknowledge our works, not as merely good, adequate, or ok, but as “great.” or at least that’s me, making me some egomaniacal person, but any writer who takes herself seriously must think in those terms, right?
I make a distinction between writing well and being well-known–many of my favorite writers aren’t widely read (as I’m sure is the case with you, too)–but the “name” issue, too, is interesting. Of course you want to establish a name for yourself. Writing is like beginning a dialogue, and if you keep yourself hidden or anonymous, how would you build trust/rapport with your readership?
But I think largely what I’m getting at is that gradual, unconscious slippage of ambition. When I began writing, my goals were to be like Dostoyevsky, like Pynchon. Two authors who are most certainly “favorite author” material. But as rejections roll in, and the voices of editors and the writers around me, I get caught up in lesser comparisons. There is the possibility that now that I’ve had time to truthfully analyze my ability and potential, I’ve had to adjust my goals accordingly. But an alternative explanation is that it’s just more difficult to attempt “greatness” each time one sets “pen to paper”, and so the slippage begins. Sometimes just finishing a paragraph that doesn’t have any obvious problems feels like cause for celebration.