Faith seeking understanding #070: On the necessity of obscurity for fame

Faith seeking understanding, my personal journey towards a deeper knowledge of and intimacy with God, the cosmos, humanity and myself through thoughts, words and (occasionally) images, is a series of [hopefully] daily reflections I’m writing with the purpose of publishing something on a regular basis for others to read, either here, at joncarllewis.com or among my writings at Medium.com.

Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash

I am rereading Elaine Dundy’s chapter about me from the memoir that she is writing. I am reminded what a good comic writer she is; she also has a biographer’s sharp eye. For instance, she writes that while my clothes are never noticeable, Ken wears deep purple suits and Tom Wolfe’s white planter outfits are very showy indeed. They dressed to be noticed. I dressed to be invisible. But perhaps that is the difference between journalists, obliged to make a vivid daily effect, and those of us who write over the long haul, revealing, even in our clothes, the slow, dull, bovine temperament of the novelist.

—Gore Vidal, Palimpsest, p. 313.

Obscurity. It is what the writer fears most of all. Or at least most writers. Or, at least, me. Deep down, I want to be noticed, famous, lauded, preferably for my writing and, barring that, for my ideas (although I can think of few better ways to be lauded for one’s ideas than by putting them in print and publishing them). Nevertheless, as an aspiring novelist, I have come to recognize a paradox: in order to become famous as a novelist, one must spend an inordinate amount of time in obscurity.

The need for obscurity is most keenly observed for the never-before-published novelist. Unless one has some claim to fame already, it’s quite likely that few people know that you are doing what you are doing. Of course, one could—and is encouraged by some to—build a platform by various means such as blogging and/or releasing excerpts or shorter fiction. Still, the sheer work of writing a novel, with few exceptions, must be done alone, in solitude, with the only cheering fans being the muse on one’s shoulder and perhaps a collection of unusually supportive loved ones and friends.

The work of a long-form fiction writer seems to me to be somewhat bipolar (in a non-technical sense of the concept). If one thirsts for fame, recognition, acclaim as many of us do, one must also need to be able to shut out the world—or, at least, the world outside of one’s head—for a significant period of time. Then, when the product is finally done, it is time to switch into people mode in order to arrange services so basic as editing or finding an agent. Even if one decides to self-publish, one must be sufficiently people-savvy to pull off a marketing campaign and build a platform, if this has not been done before.

It’s enough to cause whiplash.

Its enough cause to be pitied.

But I don’t think we’d have it any other way.

Obscurity must be faced in the service of renown.

For the novelist, there are few other ways, as I see it.

Nevertheless, from now on, I intend to exchange my drab uniform of blacks and grays for riotous splashes of color.

At least while I sit alone in my solitude and toil away at my craft.

Thank you for your time and attention.
I’d love to know your thoughts on what you’ve read.
Please comment, below, or email me at joncarllewis@gmail.com.
May God richly bless you on your journey.

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Faith seeking understanding #070: On the necessity of obscurity for fame

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