Last night I had an epiphany moment while I was re-reading Journaling Without Borders, an article Carrie Todd wrote in the Summer 2010 issue of Art Journaling. I'd gone back to the magazine to study a technique, and then read the rest just for fun. See, I don't save all these magazines for nothing, I do re-read them. It only takes a couple years to work my way through the collection.
Anyway, on one of her journal pages in the issue Carrie had glued a surrealistic circus figure, the word "bizarre" in all caps, and had written a short passage about her own reaction to another article in Rolling Stone about U2's frontman Bono, and the motto he lives by: "Vision over Visibility" (a bit more on that here.) Magazines, especially creative-theme ones, often have that quasi-droste effect: one good article always makes me want to read another.
The motto poses an interesting dilemma for a writer: Which comes first, your vision, or your visibility?
Vision has been a cornerstone of professional writing, or at least it was before visibility became so important. The first time I read an agent talking about the vital importance of a writer's "platform" over the work itself, I knew vision had taken a backseat to visibility. If things keep going in that direction, craft, quality and personal commitment will be joining it. Or at least the old lady storyteller inside me is muttering that under her breath.
Publishing wants visibility over vision. It's the foundation of the business attitude, and it makes a lot of money. We might not like it, but no one can deny that visibility is important to us as well. As professionals we want to sell what we write, and if no one notices what we've published, we don't sell. Every year the market becomes more crowded, and now that no-cost digital self-publishing has successfully eliminated the submission process, I expect the number of titles available will soar right out of the stratosphere.
I think you can have the best of both worlds -- vision and visibility -- if you don't compromise on one for the sake of the other. If you are so exhausted from spending all your time networking and socializing and getting your name out there, you're not going to write well, if at all. Same goes for walling yourself away in your ivory writing tower and spending all your time with the work -- you lose touch with the market, what the competition and the publishers are doing; you fall behind the times.
I'm not in either camp. I believe one can combine vision and visibility and make them work together. You're looking at what I do almost every day to have a professional presence online. It's simply one thing, and I know every other author does a lot more, but sometimes just one thing is enough. PBW has become an integral part of my writing life, one that allows me to be visible and yet do exactly what I want at the same time. Over the years doing just this one thing has not only brought new readers for my books, it's provided me with a global circle of friends and colleagues who share their visions, too.
Just last week I got an e-mail from a writer who is being published for the first time. The story will appear in an anthology that had an open call I listed in one of my sub ops posts last fall. That's visibility. The writer discovered the opportunity here, wrote a story for it, and now is turning pro. That's vision.
It goes both ways, too. A comment one of you left here about a year ago led me to a piece written by an editor I didn't know. It was a terrific piece, and impressed me so much that I printed it out and put it in my editor info file. I keep that file because I never know who I might be working with, and having a little info in advance helps. A few weeks ago when I lost my editor, I pulled my file, re-read that article, did a bit more research and decided to request that editor. Now we're working together. It definitely wouldn't have happened if I hadn't read that article.
Now it's your turn: which do you think is more important, vision or visibility? How are you juggling them, if at all? Let us know in comments.