Lauren’s Writing Rant

There are few things that make me angrier than the smug smiles I sometimes get when someone asks me what I do.

“I’m a writer,” I say, in the innocence of my soul.

“No, I mean, what do you do for work?”

Work? WORK? Oh, yes, because obviously writing isn’t work.  It’s what bored  teenagers do on fanfiction sites and housewives do when they have a spare moment and it’s really only just for fun, because no one really writes … WORK?! Seriously.  Fuck you.

Other variations of this include:

“Oh. That’s nice.”

“Aren’t you bored? I mean, you’re not doing anything.”

“So you’re, like, a journalist?” (Journalism, I now understand, is the only form of writing that most people recognize.)

“What do you really do?”

I try very hard to not let these statements get to me, but honestly … it’s insulting.  Not just to me, although obviously I take it personally. To everyone who has ever tried to do something creative and succeeded or failed.  Because it’s essentially saying that those people aren’t serious, they aren’t doing something worthwhile like being a lawyer. Because the world needs lots and lots of lawyers. Not writers, not artists, painters, filmmakers, actors, sculptors, designers or musicians.  Lawyers.

All right, so here we go.  I am about to make this abundantly clear and I do not want to hear a SINGLE ONE of my friends, acquaintances, or colleagues make such annoying, smug fucking statements ever again.

Yes, I’m a writer.  I write every single day.

That is a profession.  It is something I get paid for – not enough, but still.  Paid.

Even if I did not get paid, guess what? I’d STILL be a writer.  Because anyone who spends an inordinate amount of time sitting in front of a computer, a notepad, a typewriter, a notebook or scratching words into a fucking table is either a writer or a lunatic.

There is not a single writer I know who does not want to be paid for his/her work.  But before you are paid you have to. Fucking. Write. You have to spend a lot of time doing it too.  So all that time we spend not being paid? That’s IMPORTANT.  And it does not make us crazy, stupid or delusional.  It certainly doesn’t give other people the right to be smug, condescending, or inform us that we are crazy, stupid or delusional.

Do I plan on being successful? YES.  I know that might not happen, but I also know that I cannot sit around bitching about how successful I could have been if I’d only written that book.  I have to write the book to know.  I have to try and work hard at it.  And y’know something, even if I never make a living wage at it, I will STILL BE A WRITER.

So, I don’t want to hear it.  I want an end to the condescension; I want other people in other professions to accord artists – ANY artist – the kind of respect you give to anyone else.  I want folks to listen when they ask about our projects and not look off into the distance as though they never asked the question.  Above all, I never want to hear the “what do you really do?” question ever again.

And if you don’t like it, you can go fuck yourselves.

Stop Apologizing For What You Do

It’s been a long while since I’ve posted on this blog, mostly because I’m very popular and important.  By which I mean I had a job (YAY!) and have been writing for two other websites (Man I Love Films and newly with We Got This Covered, so check ’em out!) But this post is gonna be all personal and a wee bit snarky and very swear-y, so bear with me.

I have before expressed my sentiments that writers need to get some fucking balls, but I feel like it’s been more than confirmed.  My God, we do complain a lot! It’s either that the world doesn’t understand us, that the world doesn’t want us, or that we can’t write, we have writer’s block, we’re not good enough.  On and on and fucking on.  I cannot tell you how many articles and blog posts I’ve read that basically apologize and run-down their authors.  It’s one thing to be self-deprecating.  It’s another to be a fucking whinger.  What gets me the most is how often we apologize for being writers.  We’re embarrassed by it, we think that we’re posers.  And y’know what? It’s our fucking fault.

Yes, it’s difficult to get people to take you seriously when you’re asked what you do and say ‘I’m a writer’.  A lot of people don’t know what to do with that.  They think it means you sit around doing nothing all day and call it work.  Try telling someone you’re working on a novel and wait for that mixture of condescension and confusion to suffuse their face.  Wait for them to begin asking you ‘how’s that working out?’ Or saying, ‘Oh, that’s nice.’  It’s easy to start getting defensive, to start excusing yourself by saying things like, ‘Well, I also work at a cafe’ or ‘Oh, I’m applying for other jobs.’  To start explaining that you’re a writer but you’re not really a writer.  You do something else too.  Something legitimate.

We need to stop apologizing.  It’s difficult enough to spend days indoors typing away at a book that might never see the light of day, but then we APOLOGIZE for it? We make excuses to people who don’t believe that trying to be creative for five hours a day is work? Yes, it is work.  And it’s work that, more often than not, we don’t get paid for.  We want to — believe me, we do! — but we don’t.  All we can do is keep trying, keep hoping and, above all, keep writing.

I’m no longer embarrassed to tell people that I’m working on a novel.  I’m not particularly frightened to explain what it’s about, or that I write for two websites and my own blog and was just employed teaching others how to write.  I’ll likely have to get yet another job to pay the bills, to move from home, to do all the other things I want to do.  I know that perfectly well.  I’m aware of the difficulty of what I want to do for a living.  I’m aware that there’s a good chance that I’ll fail at it.  But it does no good to be embarrassed.  Writing is what I do, that’s what I want to do, and it’s probably what I will always do.

It’s time to own what we do.  Artists in general don’t get a great deal of respect, but we must learn to stop running ourselves down.   We cannot be embarrassed by saying that we’re writers.  It says a lot more about us than it does about the culture.  Why are we afraid? Because it’s not respectable? It’s not a real job? You know that it’s a real job, you know how tough it is.  So own it.  You’re a writer.  If someone doesn’t get it, you know what? Fuck them.

Penny Dread Tales Volume 2

Ok, I’m all kinds of excited.  After much to-do, my short story ‘The Last Waltz of Witchery Row’ has appeared in RuneWright Publishing’s latest steampunk anthology, Penny Dread Tales Volume Two (yes, that is the greatest title for an anthology ever).  Editor Christopher Ficco has done a great job with this one.  The stories are all good fun and excellent examples of steampunk; that’s not just shameless self-promotion.

This, however, is:

Yep, that’s me, fourth story down.  So, the book is now available on Amazon, in print right now, and I believe will be more widely available in various ebook formats before long.  This is a small press and needs plenty of support … and besides, I want people to read my story.  So there.

Whinging about Whinging about Writing

This does help sometimes.

Recently I’ve been considering what it means to have writers’ block.  Neil Gaiman reposted this piece on being blocked on his tumblr the other day  and it seemed to me a good piece of advice.  So I’m writing this short little blog post in a Starbucks cafe, feeling very hipster and pleased with myself.

Everyone who has ever tried to write, or paint, or sculpt or really do anything creative has, at some point, come up against a wall.  A roadblock, if you will.  But it occurred  to me: hasn’t EVERYONE experienced that disturbing sensation of not being able to get something done? Doctors, lawyers, baristas, what have you, everyone — in college, in grad school, in your cubicle, in your office, on a park bench — has had a block against work of some sort.  I don’t see that writers, or creative types, have a monopoly on it.  We just whinge about it a lot more.

Lovely word, that.  Whinge.  That’s what we do when we complain about not being able to write.  What we really mean is that we can’t write well, or at least well enough to suit ourselves.  The words won’t come, or the plot isn’t working, the main character just stands there staring blankly at the wall.  The story seems to have petered out.  So we sit back, we cross our arms, and we say, “I’m blocked.  That must be what it is.  I’m a suffering artist, suffering for my art!”

I have a tendency to be very unfair when I hear that.  Not that we don’t all need a moment or two to feel sorry for ourselves.  Because creation is tough — very tough.  And, if you’re like me and the vast majority of my friends attempting to be writers or artists, it gives very little in return.  You’re not going to get paid right away, if you get paid at all; it’s a lot of work and effort and emotional dedication for something that might never see the light of day.  But here’s the thing, and it’s something that one of my professors at Edinburgh used to impress upon us: you can be the greatest writer in the world, but no one will know if you don’t write the book.

Sitting around feeling sorry for yourself doesn’t cut it.  Nothing is working like I want it to! I want it to be done! I was going along just fine yesterday, what happened? I suck, I’m a bad writer, it’s all over! Pity me!

Am I blameless in this? No, not at all.  I have personally whinged more than I care to think about … and I probably will again.  Right now I’m quite pleased with my progress on a piece that I think shows promise.  But I will come up against myself eventually.  I’ll hit a point, today, tomorrow or a month from now, when I get fed up and can’t do it anymore.  And I will produce nothing and just stare at my computer.  I’ll pity myself.

Self-pity is all well and good, for about ten minutes or so.  But then you have to pull yourself out of the mire of self-pity (which can be an effort, I know) and realize that there’s no one out there going to tell you that you’re better than that.  No one is going to pat you on the head and convince you that this is worth doing.  Positive reinforcement can only go so far.  We all have very delicate egos.  Of course we want people to tell us that what we’re doing is worthwhile.  But at the end of the day, it isn’t.  There’s nothing out there going to tell you that you HAVE to write or finish this piece.  Just you and the undying compulsion to write.  That’s what art is: compulsion.

I don’t mean to say that writer’s block doesn’t exist; I mean that it is still an excuse.  It can be an excuse for fear and insecurities, for deep-seated psychological issues that have nothing to do with writing.  Or just plain laziness.  We’re a lazy breed, us creative types.  Lazier than most.  For instance, I am writing this blog post instead of working on my other stuff, all of which is lot more difficult than mouthing off about what bullshit writer’s block is.  I’m procrastinating, not because I’m not interested in my other work or because I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but rather because … writing is hard.  I’m lazy.

So, stop it.  All of us need to stop saying that writer’s block is forced upon us, that we can’t control it.  We can.  We have to keep writing, even if it’s not what we want, even if we know we’re going to change it later.  We’re never going to write that book if we don’t actually write.

Would Anyone Cry if the Novel Died?

Like Mark Twain (woot for not at all obscure literary references!) rumors of the novel’s death have been exaggerated.  It has endured for over two centuries now as the most popular form of English literature.  It survived the Industrial Revolution, two World Wars, the Atomic Bomb, even postmodernism.  But like all artistic mediums, it has been threatened time and time again.  The novel was going to kill theatre and poetry (both of which are like cockroaches and likely to survive a nuclear holocaust).  Then cinema was going to kill the novel.  Television came next.  Now, the Internet, ebooks and the decline of the printed word.  The supposed decline of the printed word.  Because the printed word still exists, it’s just more likely to be found on a computer screen than on paper.

The New York Times last week (still kicking and screaming their way into the digital age) published a rather confusing and not terribly informative article entitled ‘Why Write Novels at All?’ Despite the author’s apparent inability to form coherent paragraphs (I do so hope he does not intend to write a novel), the question seemed to be an interesting one.  Why indeed? Why should anyone want to write a novel?

Well, for starters, it’s an idiotic question.  Isn’t that sort of like asking why anyone should want to paint a picture, make a movie, play an instrument, compose a concerto? Because some human beings are fueled by art and artistic endeavors, even when those endeavors are not perhaps as elegant as the true greats.  Why write a novel?  Because it’s fun, you unconscionable dingbat.

But more importantly, why the novel? Why do we so venerate, worship, and respect a medium invented several centuries ago as an alternative to theatre and poetics? We like to tell each other stories, yes, but the form of the novel itself does not require us to tell stories in exactly that way.  As far as I can tell, those of us who write often write novels because we have yet to discover (or be offered) an alternative.

There seems to be a quiet desperation at work among the more famous/popular/self-satisfied novelists of our day.  As though the novel were on the brink of destruction and will fall apart unless held together by the few, the happy few, so privileged as to produce not just any novel, but GREAT novels (because, you know, anyone outside of the literary establishment cannot hope to contribute anything worthwhile to the cultural zeitgeist).  Well, I ask you: if the novel were to die, would we really lose that much?

Human beings will not stop writing.  We will not stop making up stories to tell to one another.  We have been doing it since we first crawled out of the primordial ooze and we are likely to carry on doing it until we crawl back again.  But the form of the novel is not so sacred as to not permit a change, a shift.  Perhaps the form of the future will be multimedia, a combination of words, sounds, even images that are weaved together on our little ebook readers.  Films, but not quite films.  Books, but not quite books.  Or perhaps our newest form of storytelling will be something we have yet to even consider, even imagine.  If the novel were to vanish, as a form, tomorrow (like epic poetry or verse plays), we would not lose what came before.  We would only move on.

If I sound snarky, it’s because I am angry.  I’m angry at the New York Times for being so complacent, so blasé, and so ill-informed.  I am angry at the literary establishment for pretending there is only one way of doing things, and that’s the way that many argue was perfected in the mid-19th Century.  Have we not moved on from the Victorian era by now? Well, no, we haven’t.  We still stick to the same dull form of the three volume novel, only we have the gall to pretend that certain ones are great art and that all others are so much tree pulp.  We continue to do things the same way because that’s the way they’ve been done for centuries.  And we balk at the concept that literature can change; indeed, must change, if it is to remain a viable art form.

So, let encomiums be written for the novel.  Let us mourn the decline of a great art form.  And then let us pick ourselves up, leave the old school behind, and move forward, into the great unknown.  The stories will still be there.

Writing for the Love of Writing

I can be pretty damned sarcastic (I know how surprised you must be to read that).  But there are times when I want to be completely and totally honest.  And this is one of those times.

Last night, I had the great good fortune to participate in a reading with other members of my MSc class in Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh.  Over the past three semesters, we’ve been together an awful lot.  We’re a small class, which means that most of us know each other quite well.  When I came to Edinburgh, I was a tad nervous to be in a group of other writers.  I’ve heard of courses where writers compete against other, even come to hate each other because everyone else seems to be a threat.  Thank God, that was not the case with this course.  What I’ve found is a kind, loyal group of incredibly intelligent, talented people, ready to embrace each other’s work as well as provide criticism, understanding and, at times, commiseration.  Trying to become a writer is not easy; it can be a thankless job and few of us will be able to make our livings at it.  It matters a great deal to be surrounded by people who truly love what they do, and who are willing to support each other in the pursuit of a creativity that is simply not as readily rewarded in mainstream society as business acumen or financial prowess.

So last night, after an exceptional day of panels concerning the business side of literature, we got together and read our own work.  In a pub, naturally; we at least fulfill that stereotype.  Now, I do not particularly enjoy spoken word events.  They can range on the spectrum from generally entertaining to mind-numbingly boring.  At the worst, they can be pretentious celebrations of some very undeserved egos.  Every once in a while, you come across an excellent reader or writer, but I admit that I have taken to avoiding them.  Not so last night.

Having come through several semesters of at times painful workshops, I was grateful to hear stories I had never heard, and some that I had.  Grateful to the camaraderie expressed every time someone else took the stage, and grateful just to be sitting with such a spectacular group of people.  I will be shocked if every single one of us doesn’t manage to make a go of being a professional writer.  MSc programs sometimes get a bad rap for being writing factories, producing generic ‘literary’ novelists.  I can say with certainty that this particular program has not done that.  We are all so incredibly different in our interests, in our styles, in the way we approach writing.  This is a result, I believe, of particularly good instructors, but also of our own desires, our own independence.

We were told of the importance of having a community.  What I learned last night was that we do not have to go looking for that community.  It’s right there next to you, in the person you’ve argued with, got drunk with, laughed with, commiserated with.  We have formed our own community and I, for one, am immensely grateful to be a part of it.  And I can say that honestly, without sarcasm or cynicism.