Writer’s Desk: Stop Selling

Tavi Gevinson, the onetime teen fashion maven and editor of Rookie and current New York ingenue, came to grips recently with all the time and energy she had been putting into crafting likable versions of herself for social media. It’s a common phenomenon in our era, the neurotic time-suckage of Instagram:

There are plenty of well-documented reasons to distrust Instagram — the platform where one is never not branding, never not making Facebook money, never not giving Facebook one’s data — but most unnerving are the ways in which it has led me to distrust myself. After countless adventures through the black hole, my propensity to share, perform, and entertain has melded with a desire far more cynical: to be liked, quantifiably, for an idealized version of myself, at a rate not possible even ten years ago…

But where it became even more problematic for Gevinson, who was trying as so many of us do to discover what the limits of possibility were as a bright young creative trying to make it in the city:

I think I am a writer and an actor and an artist. But I haven’t believed the purity of my own intentions ever since I became my own salesperson, too.

Anybody who has seen an author out there on the press tour knows that selling is part of the job. You publish a book and (if you’re lucky) the house puts you out there for a grind of interviews (answering questions like “Where do you get your ideas?” fifteen times a day in hotel rooms) which will hopefully lead to TV or radio or print or online segments that will then help sell more books. Hopefully.

But at some point the selling can become the thing. That’s especially true in our disintermediated time when all creatives are expected to be out there constantly pushing and shilling and crafting an image.

But there is a reason that “sales” has always had a somewhat disreputable ring. It’s fundamentally dishonest, as all the best salespeople can tell you. Whereas writing, at its best, uncovers the truth, whether something about the world or humanity or yourself or all three together.

Sell if you have to. Gotta move those books somehow. But only if and only when you absolutely have to. Otherwise write. And live.

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