Saturday, May 13, 2006
Whitney Otto on Kaavya Vishwanathan
If you've been following the news over the last two weeks you will have heard of Kaavya Vishwanathan, the Harvard student who has been accused of plagiarism.
Her book "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life" has been withdrawn by the publishers in the US but still available here in Canada, and from what I have gathered from the article I linked to in my first para. will be available in the UK.
There has been a swarm of articles on Kaavya and the issue of plagiarism, but Whitney Otto's op-ed in yesterday's NYTimes resonated with me the most when she stated that (and I paraphrase) Ms. Viswanathan was more motivated by being a writer than actually writing. She went on to say Kaavya may have had more success at fiction if she didn't bear the burden of the overachiever(so determined was she to get ahead that she hired a college admissions consultant, someone who, for a nice chunk of change, will get you into that Ivy League college of your choice.) Overachievers don't generally become writers because the skill set is so different.
Whitney Otto says (and I love this)
"...As I tell my writing students, if you want to be a writer work on the finer points of gossip, eavesdropping and voyeurism; basically the pastimes of the underachiever, ways to while away the hours."
With this statement she has made my 'doing nothing but people watching' seem legit! Hooray!
But she does have a point, doesn't she? If you're an overachiever with a desire for instant success, you would want to follow the "paint-by-number" approach and produce something that has already been successfully received so there's no window open for failure.
"...It would take an underachieving, gossipy, voyeuristic, bit of a slacker to write a genre novel capable of pulling away from the pack. In the writing life you can't avoid failure. Or, to put it another way, someone who is driven to write is usually not the same sort of person who would work with an expensive college counselor to ensure admissions success.
That's a little like expecting a claustrophobe to take up a career in a coal mine. And you can't trade on your youth because being young isn't enough to even know your own story, let alone tell it. Some of the best books ever written about youth are by writers long past those dewy days."
Yes, Whitney, you've got me nodding my head in agreement here.