Today on Facebook a friend of mine posted a “meme” (I hate what has been done to that word, but we’re stuck with it), that read as follows:
“Destroy the idea that you gotta be good at artistic things to enjoy them, that every hobby has to become something you’re so good at, you can monetize it. [That’s] a capitalist lie. Sing off-key, draw poorly, write badly. Life is meant to be enjoyed, not monetized. You’re not a product.“
I’d agree that thinking you have to make money at your craft is much too narrow. But I object, and strenuously, to the idea that anybody should be encouraged to sing off-key, draw poorly, or write badly. That’s dreadful advice!
This meme confuses (perhaps deliberately, perhaps not) skillfulness with financial success. The two are very, very different. It’s possible to be marvelously good at something and still make no money at it — perhaps because you choose to give it away, perhaps because nobody wants the type of thing you do, or quite possibly because the world is heavily overpopulated with people who do it just as well as you do, if not better, but have better industry connections or whatever.
If you don’t believe me, sit down and have a chat sometime with a classical musician who graduated from Juilliard. There are 20 or 50 times more fully trained orchestra musicians than there are openings in professional orchestras to accommodate them.
Striving for excellence is, in my opinion, very important! Granted, we all fall short of our visions of perfection, but that’s not a reason to stop striving. Excellence is its own reward.
I have very little patience with people who write badly. I participate actively in a couple of writing groups (mostly online these days, of course). It stuns and depresses me how inept so many amateur writers are. If you want to write badly and put your work away in a drawer (or preferably burn it), that’s fine. I will make no complaint. But at the point where you hope to share it with anyone, even in a friendly, non-monetized way, you have a definite obligation to strive for excellence. Failure to do so is an insult to your readers.