You know the character. In a TV series or a movie, he's a talented artistic sort, but utterly rejects any commercialization of his product if it entails compromise in his work. Using his song for an advertising jingle? No way. Altering his masterpiece to suit the tastes of the wealthy client/benefactor? Absolutely not. He's fiercely independent, and disdains the trappings of popularity or financial reward if it in any way interferes with the sanctity of his art.
I always hated those characters. I found them sanctimonious, self-absorbed, and more than a little ridiculous.
Except I just realized ... I might be that guy, with respect to my writing.
Of course, I'm not a TV or movie character, so I'm a more filed-off version of the sort. I'm willing to publish my opinions in the popular press, and I don't harbor any particularly negative opinions about gaining popularity or exposure or money (I'll let the readers decide whether I'm "talented" or not).
But it is certainly not why I write, and I'm pretty consistent in rejecting opportunities for greater exposure if I have even the slightest concern that the medium will entail a dilution or compromise in my message. Which it usually will, since writing for someone else involves incorporating their editorial judgment and word count restrictions and other formatting strictures. Whereas when I write on this blog, where I can write for as long or as short as I want, on whatever topic I want, for whoever cares to read (or doesn't) -- none of that applies. I'm in control of my own message.
The same applies to other potential communicative mediums I might join in. Interviewed on a TV series? Someone else is the editor of the clip -- that makes me very nervous. Serving as an expert witness? You're supposed to give decisive judgments about whether X or Y did or didn't happen -- but what if I want to equivocate? This is also why I've never had an interest in going into politics: the arguments that win elections or change popular opinion aren't necessarily good arguments, and I don't have the stomach for making claims that rouse popular support even as I know they're not analytically precise.
Of course, these self-imposed limits mean that fewer people will be exposed to the arguments I make, and one might think that -- given all the energy I invest in crafting them -- I'd view that as a sizable loss. But ... I don't. Not really, anyway. I'm always happy when people read what I write and find it compelling or persuasive, but that's never been my primary motivation. I'm a very inwardly-motivated individual; I write because I want to get my thoughts out into the world. If they happen to spark some other person's imagination (or get me some freelance dollars), that's great, but it's just a bonus.
I'd like to think I'm not sanctimonious about the whole deal: I don't think I'm better or purer or more authentic because I've made the choices I've made. But I'm definitely making that style of choice. And the more I think about it, the more the closest archetype I'm falling into is one of those independent artist types. I am, it turns out, That Guy.