Margaret Atwood’s New York based editor asked her once,
“What are you in Canada now anyway? I mean, here you are a writer but what are you up there? Are you a thing?”
“I used to be a writer, and the difference between being a writer and being the thing is that writers just write books and they write away and most of the time nobody pays much attention to them because they’re either ahead of their time or behind it. But [when] what you happen to be saying coincides with what is going on in society; then you become a thing and this is what it seems to have happened to me.” Margaret Atwood
So according to Margaret Atwood, a writer whose writing reflects what is going on in society at the time is a ‘thing’.
Thing: obsession, fixation, mania, craze, fad.
Years ago, Hemingway became a phenomenon, a thing not only because of what he was writing about, but also because of the way he was writing it. He was admired and copied by most writers around the world. As John Steinbeck said:
“In my time, Ernest Hemingway wrote a certain kind of story better and more effectively than it had ever been done before. He was properly accepted and acclaimed. He was imitated almost slavishly by every young writer, including me, not only in America but in the world. He wrote a special kind of story out of a special kind of mind and about special moods and situations. When his method was accepted, no other method was admired. The method or style not only conditioned the stories but the thinking of his generation.”
But according to the existing publishing needs and perspectives, which of the present-day writers are things? Is the British writer J.K. Rowling with her Harry Potter series a thing for children and young adults all over the world? Is her American contemporary Stephanie Meyer with her Vampire romance series, the Twilight series, a thing too?
Every day tens and even hundreds of writers make it on the New York Times bestseller list, but do they all become a thing? Absolutely not. So does selling millions of copies of books make a writer a thing? What are the new specifications for a writer to become one?
Do you agree with the late Joseph Heller:
“I never thought I could delude myself into thinking I was presenting anything of value to people. People don’t write books to benefit humanity.”
Or would you like to be a thing?