I have mixed feelings about the poet William Stafford, who wrote several charming, accessible books of poems before he died in 1993. Sometimes his poems were spot-on; othertimes, they were too cute. But he also wrote some excellent books on writing, including You Must Revise Your Life and Writing the Australian Crawl. And in one of these books, or maybe a different one, he says something to the effect that a writer's job is not to be his or her own editor. The editor is the editor. And the writer is the writer. So the writer should just churn out whatever and let the editor sort it all.
In other words, a writer has no responsibility to monitor the quality of her work.
I think this is very, very good advice, particularly for young writers, who have enough angst and doubt already and have no place sniffing out the whims of Manhattan.
However... I wonder about old, established writers. I just read a galley of the new Philip Roth novel, which is coming out in the fall. And of course it's very good. For most of it, I was really happy just being in Philip Roth's mind. But by the end, I thought, Hm. This doesn't do anything he hasn't already done. Also, it's short. It made me kind of wish he'd saved up and done a long one. Of course, the guy's 76, and while he's still at the top of his game, he probably feels the press of mortality. Maybe he's writing these little novels just to get them out.
Then again, my expectations are probably too high. You shouldn't expect a writer to get better and bigger with every book. And some writers' least exciting stuff is still worth reading. I just read the first quarter or third of the new Alice Munro novella in Harper's... she's my favorite writer, but I'm not too interested in finishing it. But I will, because it's her, and I know it will be worth it.
Editors, especially these days, are probably motivated to publish *anything* by a known quantity -- a best-selling or prize-winning writer. Do you think a writer has an obligation to keep standards up, if editors aren't going to do it? (And to be clear: I was vaguely dissatisfied with the latest Munro and Roth, but who knows, maybe it's just me.) I can't help but think that William Stafford, for one, would have been a better poet if he didn't submit everything he wrote.