Writers Journey: Sensationalism

Sensationalism is a modern American phenomenon these days.  We should take care to notice that goals of any positive value are worthy of respect and admiration.  This is not just a warning for writers, but for anyone with a career goal.  If a student wishes to graduate from college and enter a career as a teacher’s assistant, earning an income of thirty thousand to fifty thousand a year, this is a worthy goal.  So long as that student keeps their expenses in under their wage, this person can be said to have attained success.  They earn more than they spend, and they provide a service to humanity.

However, one will often encounter mental hiccups in their most basic endeavors because of an obsession with sensationalism in America today.  If you are not a Forbes CEO, or a national best-selling author, you may encounter many blank stares among family and friends, and even your college faculty.  I recently sat through an unfortunate session at a local college where students were encouraged to earn a hundred thousand a year, find two houses, have three cars, and this was considered ‘making it.’  And I realized that this ideal is extremely sensationalized let alone economically and environmentally unsustainable.  Two houses.  Three cars.  Everyone should have it.  So the theory goes . . .

Nowhere does this apply more than to the working artist.  A writer is automatically successful because they finish a final draft.  That’s it.  That draft may never see publication, but the success is still there.  Looking at history, this is how now-famous writers like Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters were initially successful.  They wrote stories for their families, for each other, and those stories were taken by their families to publishing houses which accepted them.  Hundreds of years later we measure their success by the fact that their works are still being published.  The quality is a success, but the sensationalism of their fame is less interesting.

As writers living in a product-centered world, we must be careful about sensationalizing our goals.  There are those hungry for fame and those who are hungry to write.  We must take care also to surround ourselves with people who are proud of us for what we do, not our salary figure or the number of A-list people we know.  We must be grounded and try hard to avoid even the first taste of sensationalism, sweet candy that it is, like a kind of nicotine or caffeine that amps our system up.

Emily Dickinson and Herman Melville died in obscurity.  Later they became great names.  Young writer, this may be you.  You will have your audience one way or another and it may only be your family and friends.  This, too, is success and let no one say otherwise.


Meditation for your journal:  Count those among you who honor you for what you do and who you are and then identify sensationalism in your current life.