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.

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.

Just One More

This is going to be another brief and sappy post. Brace yourselves.

In almost exactly a month, I’m leaving Edinburgh.  I’m going back to America, back home, to my parents, my family, some remarkable friends, my state, my nation.  I’m looking forward to it, seeing people I haven’t seen, seeing a country I’ve been away from for a year, hearing American voices, eating chili dogs.  Hell, I even miss high fructose corn syrup.

Last week, I had a mini freakout.  Edinburgh suddenly felt ridiculous.  The tourists are impossible for a city of this size.  The road works are confusing.  The preparations for the festival seem to be put there specifically to make life difficult for anyone trying to live in this town.  It’s still cold at the end of July; the sun only makes sporadic appearances.  The pubs close too early.  I hated Edinburgh.  Good riddance that I’m leaving, I thought.  To hell with it.

Which is not true, of course.  I don’t hate Edinburgh.  I’m not in love with it, like some of my friends are, but I don’t hate it.  I’ve enjoyed living here, all things considered.  I like the pubs and the wandering narrow streets, the weird directions, the gothic buildings.  I love the strange otherworldliness of Old Town and the clean Georgian elegance of New Town.  I even kind of love the crowds, which aren’t so bad once you get off the Royal Mile.  I’m ready to leave the city, but I actually think I’ll miss it.

But the worst part is the part that I really don’t want to deal with, or think about.  It’s the people.  I will miss the people.  I’ll miss getting a phone call at 9:30 with those fatal words ‘let’s just go out for one’.  I’ll miss the blow-out parties at Lindsay’s flat.  I’ll miss lying in the Meadows on those rare sunny days.  I’ll miss the coffees we’ve drunk.  I’ll miss the drunkenness and the sobriety.  I’ll miss the faces of people I know so well.  I’ll miss going to the Vue on Saturdays, and getting drunk on Tuesday afternoon (or Wednesday or Thursday for that matter).  I’ll miss sitting down in a pub and the smiles when someone says ‘I wrote a thousand words today!’ I’ll miss the stories.

I’ve left places before.  I’ve left friends before.  Clinton, St. Andrews, New York and now Edinburgh.  People scattered across the world in random nations, states, provinces.  Keeping in touch by facebook.  Hearing about friends getting married, or losing loves, or getting a job, a home, another life.  I’ve managed to stay in contact with a lot of people, and I plan on seeing them all again.  But it’s never the same.  Not because people change too much.  Hell, I’ve got friends I’ve known since middle school and, despite growing up, we’re still friends.  But it’s never the same because something has always ended.  A year at graduate school, at college, at high school.  We grow up and stay close, but the experience cannot be repeated.

All of the philosophical stuff comes out at times like this.  Life is ephemeral.  We only have the moments as they happen and then they are gone.  We should not try to hang on to them too tightly, for we will only live in the past.  All I can think right now, though, is that a good friend is about to leave to go home.  She’s not the first to leave; she won’t be the last.  Toasts will be drunk and promises made and, eventually, kept.  It’s not the end; it’s merely another step along the road.  That doesn’t make it any easier.

Let’s go for just one more.

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.

One Genre to Rule Them All…

How to be a douche in two easy lessons

As my friends are well aware, I am a total snob.  I’m a film snob, a literature snob, and, most recently (due to my sudden interest in Nietzsche, that syphilitic genius), a philosophy snob.  I watch movies with long names and long takes, like Last Year at Marienbad and Dr. Mabuse the Gambler.  I read Thomas Pynchon for fun.  I like Baudrillard and Foucault and words like ‘signification’ and ‘heteronormative structures’.  I write douchey posts on my blog, like this one.

But …

I also like terrible B-movies, slasher flicks, sappy romantic comedies and things in which Bruce Willis or Vin Diesel blows shit up.  And I read genre books: crime fiction, sci-fi, fantasy and their subgenres, steampunk, cyberpunk, even the occasional romance novel.  I do not like contemporary literary fiction as a rule.  Everything recent that I’ve taken interest in usually turns out to be what would be broadly classified as ‘genre’ fiction.  You know, genre.  That thing that snobs are not supposed to like.  That thing that is repetitive and has rules and is, like, generic and stuff.  That section of literature (or film, or art) that is not ‘serious’.

Recently, a furor broke out over the BBC’s World Book Night last month.  Lead by Stephen Hunt (an excellent steampunkish author), a group of fantasy/sci-fi writers responded to what they perceived as the BBC’s anti-genre attitude.  I believe the phrase ‘sneering derogatory tone’ was used.  The BBC of course denies that they sneered at genre fiction. (Hunt’s original post can be found here: Stephen Hunt vs BBC , the BBC’s response according to The Guardian here: BBC Denies Sneering at Genre Fiction ).

I did not see the program, so I really can’t comment on how right or wrong the sci-fi authors or the BBC are.  Being that an opinion is much easier to hold if not hampered by the facts (thank you, Mark Twain), I choose to side with the authors.  But the point that this whole debate makes is one that keeps coming back to me: what’s the matter with genre?

What is it about so-called genre fiction that makes folks like the literati over at the BBC sneer? I use the BBC specifically, but this extends to a whole section of writers, readers, professors and intellectuals.  Why is To the Lighthouse literature, and Farewell My Lovely not? I once took a whole class in 20th Century Crime Fiction at a university known for its stalwart dedication to the canon of English literature.  Why is this debate still going on?

Warhol, like him or hate him, made great strides in making pop culture art.  Thomas Pynchon wrote a potboiler, a steampunk novel, an adventure story.  Cormac McCarthy writes westerns, but no literary critic will admit that he’s working in the tradition of Zane Grey.  Robert Louis Stevenson is taught as canonical, but lest we forget that he was a genre author: horror (Jekyll and Hyde) , adventure (Kidnapped, Treasure Island), historical fantasy (The Master of Ballantrae).  Dickens was a popular writer who got published in monthly installments in magazines.  Jane Austen, let’s face it, wrote chick lit.

I blame the Modernists.  Before Virginia Woolf et al began venerating themselves, novels were largely modes of entertainment.  They were a popular medium intended for a wide audience longing for a three volume escape from mundanity.  They were TV for the middle classes.  The best ones (for my money, Dickens, Hardy and Thackeray, but that’s debatable) were entertaining first; the depth of their subjects, their political commentary and social consciences were a marvelous addition.  The Modernists made the novel deep as a cave and just as dangerous.  They gave it a greater social conscience, and moved it towards real political efficacy, but in the process lost sight of entertainment value.  We read Ulysses because it’s important, but is it fun?

This is not to say that there is no place for intellectual books.  I love intellectual books.  I also don’t want to be bored by something just because it’s ‘important’.  Anti-intellectualism is a terrible thing, but sometimes I get the sense that intellectuals are looking to cordon themselves off from the rest of the world, to look down their noses at something just because it does not fit into an arbitrary criteria of ‘art’.  The fact is that literary fiction is as much a genre as anything else: there’s BAD literary fiction, and there’s good.  We just slap the phrase ‘literary’ on it and suddenly it’s a tome worthy of the New York Review of Books.  Good genre fiction is difficult; it requires as much skill, as much intelligence and attention to detail as any other work of art.  Entertaining people is hard work.  So, basically, we all need to get our heads out of our own asses and realize that literature is a slippery category.  Besides, some literary fiction could be improved by a dirigible or two.

Snoopy was the greatest unsung writer of the last generation

Everybody has a blog.  My grandmother’s cat has a blog.  Actually, that’s a lie.  My grandmother doesn’t have a cat.  But if she did, and if said cat were of an outgoing nature, a creature of publicity and remarkable sufficiency–say, perhaps, a Siamese or American Tabby (none of your self-centred Scottish Folds)–that cat, you can be assured, would have a blog.  So, now I have a blog.  I’m not quite sure why.  I’m certain that it will largely be used to subject my friends to what ravings they do not hear from me on a regular basis.

It will also be utilized for me to make noises about what movies, books and television shows I think are underrated, overrated and never rated at all; what authors are idiots and not worth the money they earn, and what authors have been needlessly and sadly forgotten.  What directors ought to be shot of cannons, and what directors deserve greater veneration.  And finally, of course, this blog will be used for shameless self-promotion as I attempt to actually get my own fictional work into print.  Not to mention the promotion of my exceptionally talented and neglected friends.

I have titled this blog ‘Suddenly, a shot rang out …’ because I find it amusing.  And because that best sums up my own writing style: a little snarky, a little romantic, a little violent and a little … Snoopy-ish.  If Snoopy didn’t write those five words first, he certainly wrote them best.

So, it was a dark and stormy night.  Suddenly, a shot rang out …