A commenter down below -- Pete -- suggested that my question about life experience was irrelevant because a brilliant writer can make anything interesting. And as for the rest of us, well, there's no hope. He also guessed that there are only about a dozen truly great writers per generation.
In a way he's right. There probably are only a few writers every generation who are universally acknowledged, are taught in schools, and have the staying power to last into later centuries. And it doesn't matter if they're Melville or Conrad out adventuring, or Virginia Woolf at home in bed, or Proust in his corky cell. To them the question of lifestyle is completely pointless.
But I'm not a fan of the Great Man theory of literature. I'll never be Tolstoy, which is too bad, yeah, but I think there's a place for me and all the other non-Tolstoys out there. Because the vast world of literature isn't divided into the great and the non-great; it's much, much more interesting and complex. There are books that aren't brilliant, but are pretty darn good. There are books that are okay, but have a great, unforgettable character. There are books that are pretty mediocre but that you can't, for some reason, put down. There are books that are bad but that get you through a hard time.
When I was 17 I wrote a poem that was published in The Buffalo News (I got $17.50 for it) and a crazy person mailed me a fan letter. I will never be convinced that the poem was any good at all, and I haven't actually written any poems since. But for some reason that bad poem connected with someone. I don't know what it was; maybe the grim industrial imagery? You never do know. Which is all a way of saying that 1) a piece of writing doesn't have to be great to do the essential thing, which is to connect, and 2) life is more interesting with a few bad poems in it.
I don't think everything can or should be published, just because it might be meaningful to someone, somewhere. And in general I think editors should be more picky and writers should be harder on themselves. Still, I would hate to live in world where only Geniuses were published. Because I, for one, don't want to read only the work of Geniuses.
So I guess I'm talking about Good Enough. What's good enough? Argh, I don't know. Leave that for editors.