Posts Tagged ‘writers’

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.

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.

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.