For your enjoyment and digestion, here's a bleeding chunk of Hanif Kureishi's essay on writing, "Dreaming and Scheming" from his collection of the same name (Faber, 2002), which recently tickled my fancy. I've displayed it in larger font because this template needs to be fiddled with - and I haven't had a moment for that recently.
The Modernist writers I admired when growing up - Joyce, Woolf, Eliot, Beckett, Burroughs, Genet - didn't expect to trade in the marketplace. They didn't work on TV series or do adaptations on the side; they didn't consider writing for Hollywood. They were artists and individualists, to say the least; they had integrity. Commerce was corruption. The second-rate writers made a living at it; the artists didn't care. Graham Greene seemed an exception: he wrote good movies and novels that sold. Otherwise the world of the nineteenth-century novel - writer and large public in contact; writer to the side of, but part of the ruling class - didn't exist for serious writers. Story-telling in its crudest sense, as entertainment, as escape, had been taken over by the cinema, and then by television.
Yet Burroughs, Beckett and Genet did begin to sell in the 1960s and 1970s, as did Sartre, Camus and Grass; when I was at university writers like Borges and Marquez were in most serious students' pockets. Publishers like Picador made hip books fashionable and sold them to the same people who would buy The Doors and Dylan. The expected 'break' between artist and mass audience never occurred. Jut as in the cinema there are usually a couple of 'arthouse' hits a year, so it is with literary novelists, some of whom 'cross over'.
The sort of writer you can be is partly determined by the market and whether you want to sell books or not. If you want to make a living by writing, the kind of work you will produce might be different to that which you'd do if you had another job. Your relation to your audience will be different. By the end of the 1980s the nature of the profession and the opportunities available within it had changed considerably. Book publishing, with the rise of massive media conglomerates, became more dynamic. There was more media, more places to promote books and more 'profiles' of writers.
THe intensification of publishing coincided with the rise of better bookshops - mostly Waterstones, then, a bit later, Books etc. and Borders...these shops started to organize readings, where writers and their public could, at least, see one another.
Each seemed curious about the other.
The small independent bookshop - much idealized and often useful - could, at times, drive you mad. These shops were usually small and the selections narrow. In places like Waterstones - if the past sometimes seems to have been expunged and you can only get the latest books - you can instantly get a good idea of what is in print....
The writer who disappears behind his work or seems to dissolve into it, is almost impossible in the modern marketplace...The artist has attempted to capture some kind of complexity while the media caricatures and empties people out. The writer is stripped bare; no mystery can remain, unless he turns himself into a grotesque enigma like Pynchon or Salinger and will, therefore, be pursued and caricatured even more.
(In other spots in that collection Kureishi writes about collaboration and its influence on his work, something I think is less often discussed than it could be in the mainstream press - how many well known novelists are there out there at present who regularly write for theatre and film, after all?)
Kureishi, Hanif. Dreaming and scheming: reflections on writing and politics. London: Faber, 2002, pp.267-268.