Wednesday, 23 August 2017

On the "validation" of the writer

Jane Austen -- instant validation?  No way........

I have been intrigued lately, when looking at the Literature Wales Twitter page, and at various writer blogs, to see that a new concept is gaining momentum.  It holds that when a writer (usually a very junior one) obtains a Literature Wales bursary of £3,000 or whatever, he or she is then somehow "validated" as a writer.  There is usually an expression of heartfelt thanks for the cash,  followed by a good deal of gushing praise for the generosity of the donor.  One writer after another goes on the record to thank LW for enabling them to "buy time" to write, and for making them feel empowered, validated or vindicated as serious writers worthy of the attention of the literary world.

Hang on a moment here.  Of course writers who obtain competitive bursaries feel good, and there is no doubt at all about the noble intentions both of LW and the panel members who put huge amounts of time into assessing the applications placed in front of them.  And it is right and proper that young and old writers deserve to be nurtured and encouraged, criticised where necessary by their mentors, and given a steer towards where their real talents lie.

But there is no way that a novice writer should be encouraged to feel "validated"  by a grant or a bursary, or even by a prize or a publishing deal.  The only thing that validates a writer is BOOK SALES.  Do not even talk about "validation" until your book is out there in the market place, competing with other books, and finding a loyal base of avid readers in their thousands.  The size of your royalty cheque is a reasonable measure of the degree to which you are validated.

There is no such thing as instant validation, and if you think there is, you are living in a fantasy world, maybe with a vastly inflated opinion of your own talents.  It is not at all uncommon for writers to struggle for years or decades, and to be validated as master craftsmen or artists long after they are dead.  How long did it take for Shakespeare, RS Thomas, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Jan Morris, Alexander Cordell and hundreds of other great writers to be validated and to achieve greatness?  Every one of them had to struggle to rise above the crowd, and sure as eggs not one of them was instantly validated simply because somebody gave them a bag of cash.

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