Monday, January 14, 2013

Standards


I love Downton Abbey, the fantastic British television show about life on a prestigious country estate during the early years of the twentieth century. While watching a documentary on Highclere Castle, the glorious setting for the show, I was struck by something the present-day butler said while setting the table for the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon’s breakfast. Colin Edwards explained that tables had been set and meals had been served in the same fashion at Highclere for hundreds of years. Scaling down just wouldn’t feel right.

“I think it’s very important to maintain standards because once they disappear, they will never come back,” Edwards said.

Standards.

I am known to drone on at the dinner table, pontificating like a fossil about the bare minimum of service in the retail industry and the lack of manners in society. “Casual Fridays” at work begat a general malaise. Being seen in one’s pajamas in public used to be cause for ridicule. Now, it’s commonplace.

However, I am not merely romanticizing a time when elegance was reserved for only rich people who had servants, while everyone else lived in squalor, fighting for every dollar they could scrape together. That is a topic for a different post.

What I am referring to occurred not that long ago, early in my career when I worked in downtown Chicago and even a little afterward in the suburbs. The Marshall Field’s department store in the nearest mall used to have a concierge and a coat check. Each department offered to send your purchases to the coat check where you could pick them up on your way out, so shoppers didn’t have to schlep bags around the store. This service was complimentary, of course, and it was lovely.

I didn’t have a lot of money while shopping at that suburban Marshall Field’s, but it sure felt like it.

Standards.

'I think it's important to maintain standards 
because once they disappear, they will never come back.'
— Colin Edwards 

Holiday shopping this past December was not that easy. How many times did you look for someone to help you, only to stand there, deserted?

Retail establishments used to have people available to help customers, before warehouse stores and price slashing drove the experience permanently into the bargain basement. Heck, some of these places don’t even bother to put carpeting over their grey concrete floors!

I straddle two worlds, uncomfortably dipping my toe in and checking the waters on one side, while learning what I can and applying it to the other. One side is an indie author, while the other is a published journalist and magazine editor who still freelances. Half of me is a part of the old establishment really, trained by professors in the English department who frequently reminded us that our writing was being judged not only as student literature, but against all literature that has come before us.

Standards.

Many say the way to commercial success in indie publishing is to release a ton of books each year, for some upwards of four to six. Kudos to those who can churn out that much copy and still create great novels. That is a most admirable feat.

I also know a few traditionally published authors who produce one book every year or two, which offers time for the idea to germinate, for the muses to strike, and much wordplay.

Each schedule has its benefits, and I am torn between what the market demands and my own writing method, which is considerably slower than many of my indie peers.

Whichever schedule I choose, I think Colin Edwards’ words, as well as those of my college professors, will forever echo in my ears.

Once standards disappear, they are gone forever.




11 comments:

Kelly Hashway said...

You have to do what works for you, but no matter what, don't sacrifice quality for quantity.

R. Doug Wicker said...

I'd rather turn out one really great novel every two years and sell little than turn out twenty mediocre novels annually and sell a ton.

But, hey, that's just the way I am.

Beverly Diehl said...

Sometimes the idea of that kind of volume makes me think that I can/will never get published, either traditionally or self, because it's just not IN me while I work a demanding day job. Should I give up altogether?

Then I grit my teeth and decide to keep going on, at my own pace and in my own way. Perhaps, someday, when all I have to do is write I'll be faster at it. Perhaps not, even then. I write because I must, and if I get published, someday, so much the better, but even if not, I'm gonna keep on, keepin' on.

Jennifer Brooks said...

Well said! His comment on the documentary made me think about the slippery slope of standards, too. My husband's constant refrain of late as been, "incrementally... inch by inch." I long for the days where well-turned heels and well-turned phrases were the most titillating public occurrences.

Karen Wojcik Berner said...

Kelly, R. Doug, and Beverly: You are correct. Everyone has to work at their own pace. Thanks for your comments.

Jennifer, I agree! Thanks for stopping by.

deborahbrasket said...

I like your links between topics and agree with you (and Colin) about standards.

Karen Wojcik Berner said...

Thanks, Deborah. :)

angel011 said...

I agree that standards matter. They matter very much. Without them, there's a constant regret, the constant question how good could it be.

Karen Wojcik Berner said...

Absolutely, Ivana. And I know none of us wants to be in that position.

Claudine G. said...

What a sobering reminder. Standards must outweigh quantity always.

Karen Wojcik Berner said...

So true, Claudine. Thanks for stopping by!