by Michelle Arch
As an MFA student, a short fiction writer, an aspiring novelist, and a literary blogger, I reflect frequently on the issues of universality and marketability in relation to art. Whether composing a chapter of my novel, a short story, or even a mere blog post, questions of significance dog me: What is writeaboutable? What merits the deconstruction and elevation of an experience or insight to a poetic observation or prose? Moreover, is anyone going to read this?
I’ve had countless discussions with my peers about the notion of writing what we feel versus writing what sells, or, in the case of websites and blogs, what garners views. I’ve always advocated passionately that the former is the nobler, which most would not deny; however, the point that it will matter little if what you write from your heart isn’t read by anyone other than your mother is a valid one. In “Why Write?” (Archetype, December 13, 2009), I suggest that, as Wilde and Poe avow, writers write for the intrinsic value of art without function, l’art pour l’art. It’s a comforting premise, to be sure, since the aim of transcending literary obscurity could be a disappointing goal for most of us.
In Party of One: The Loners’ Manifesto, Anneli Rufus asserts that “most often, books go unread.” (I could say the same about many of my blog posts.) “The fiction shelves in any library are heavy with novels […] that have not been lent for years. Thus the writer, knowing this as writers do, is even more alone. Who will deem my work worth his time to read? The few. Yet writers write. And knowing what they know makes their isolation almost a sacrament.”
Jonathan Franzen also addresses the dilemma of writing in a void. In his essay “Mr. Difficult,” he presents two very different models of the relationship between fiction and its readers and admits that he subscribes to both: the Status model, in which the novel’s value is independent of how many people read and appreciate it, and the Contract model, which is based on the author earning and sustaining the reader’s trust and connecting with the audience. This concept of two models could apply to blog posts, as well, and I contemplate regularly whether I should post what I perceive and what appeals to me in that moment or post what, well, sells.
When I sit down to post on my website, that the content is relevant or poignant to me is paramount. In addition to my original work and personal commentary, every artist’s poem, passage, or image I’ve presented has interested or moved me in some grand way. It has so affected me, in fact, that I want to share it and therefore hope that, by the post’s title or introductory lines, it will capture the attention of both subscribers and random literary blog browsers. I’m well aware that, like much of my original fiction, many of my posts remain unread to this day. And, oddly, I’m okay with that. There is a satisfaction of simply knowing that my words and insights and Aha! moments are out there…wherever “there” is. And if what I write resonates with just one person, I deem it a success – even when that one person is my mother.
Michelle Arch is a graduate student at Chapman University who is currently pursuing the dual MA in English and MFA in Creative Writing degree. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre and English and an MBA from California State University. She is a member of the Christian Writers Guild, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, American Christian Fiction Writers, the Modern Language Association, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, and the Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society. An excerpt from her fiction novel, Time of Death, won First Prize in the Fiction Writing Contest sponsored by The Editorial Department, Second Prize in the WestBow Press Writing Contest, and Third Prize in the Beverly Bush Smith Aspiring Writer Award competition at the 2012 Orange County Christian Writers Conference.