June 16th, 2015

Things people who haven’t written anything yet need to stop saying

Warning: this post is probably snarky. And I’m not even at all confident that I’m right to disagree with the statements below, which is why I’m adding the caveat that these injunctions are for non-writers only. If you’ve been working at the craft seriously for years and want to argue with me about this stuff, I will listen–but if not, I won’t. Here’s why…

Everyone has a novel in them; everyone should write it. Nope. There is nothing, other than basic human functions like eating and walking and texting, that everyone can do. Not everyone can score a soccer goal, not everyone can sing on key, not everyone can paint a lilac bush so that it is recognizable as such. This phrase is a mangling of the basic principle that everyone’s life contains a novel–if looked at from the right angle and with enough insight and artistry, some aspect of everyone’s life could form the basis of an interesting novel. This is also how dating works. But not everyone is able to write–or even find–the novel within his or her own life. Which is fine–they simply have to be content with living it, which is still pretty good.

Are you worried about ebooks and stuff? It’s not even friends and acquaintances who keep asking this question; it’s newspapers and magazines! To be fair, newspaper and magazine journalists are also writers and I suppose they are themselves worried about ebooks and perhaps think that creative writers are going to share their pain. And some do, up to a point–I know plenty of writers who have an emotion of some kind about ebooks (I don’t). But insisting that hardworking passionate writers talk about something they have no control over and that has nothing to do with the content of their work is disempowering, not to mention boring. Imagine if a huge double-page spread in the sports section were devoted to astroturf.

Once I really get down to writing, I think I can make a living at it. I don’t doubt that people do make a living at writing–I know a few–but it’s very hard and fairly rare, and saying this having done nothing towards said goal indicates a complete misunderstanding of the industry (or non-understanding, as in no attempt made). Not to mention it’s mean, considering I’m still showing up to work every day and squeezing writing into my evenings and weekends. Would first-year law students approach a working lawyer and say, “I plan to be much more successful than you are.” Well, maybe they would, but they shouldn’t.

I think I’m just going to write a bunch of [insert genre] stuff to make some easy money. Apparently there’s a Doris Lessing novel in which someone does this and it works out. Maybe that’s how things were in the past or maybe it was just Lessing being a snot, I don’t know. Certainly, it has not been possible for most of us to quickly and easily write novels ever, and especially not in a genre we distain. For those that can do it, it still isn’t very easy to sell said novels, and for those that can do that it is unlikely that they’ll make much money, let alone enough to justify the (I imagine) excruciating process of writing a novel one does not like. Not to mention the horrible cynicism of attempting to sell something to people one transparently does not respect–not impossible, but please stop telling me about it. No one I know personally has ever succeeded in one of these projects and most have quit almost upon starting.

I would love to be a writer, just sitting around all day writing, but I’ve never been able to afford to quit my job. This is a problematic sentence all around, but the central issue is that people are saying it to me. One very special someone made this comment to me at work, standing about six feet from my desk, which was not far from hers. I can’t even begin to parse what this means–that I’m not a real writer? Oh, wait, I think I parsed it and, again, that’s mean. Even if you truly don’t consider me a real writer, and I’m sure some don’t, why would you announce that? I’m sure some people don’t like my hair or clothes, but they rarely mention it at dinner. Also, who spread the rumour that being a writer is just like being on vacation? Being an accountant is largely just sitting at a desk all day too, but no one thinks that’s much easier than having a “real job.”

I think most of the writing in my genre/writing in my region/writing of my time/writing published anywhere ever isn’t that good. I just want to do my own stuff without getting influence by all the weaker books. Again, as I say above, it is not impossible that a talented writer would feel this way, though I don’t honestly know how–how do you create in society if you’re not in dialogue with others working in the same way in that society? But whatever, I know for a fact that some people can do it. So, if you can, write something amazing and blow my assumptions away. For everyone else who makes this claim but hasn’t themselves accomplished anything yet, I assume that you’re like the women I met in university (and beyond, sadly) who thought “most girls are bitches” and preferred male friends–an exact translation of, “All the attention for me, please.”

10 Responses to “Things people who haven’t written anything yet need to stop saying”

  • Emily says:

    You can’t see me, but I’m raising my hand high and shouting “I agree! I agree!”

  • Scott Watson says:

    I am probably in the minority,I am not sure this is fair to non-writers (I assume you mean non-book writers,as a lot of people write for work). What is the context of the comments? Are they trying to make conversation and are grasping at straws?
    Most of the points above are general cultural ideas about writing. I would argue the same sort of “non-trade” comments are made about any profession or group. I am sure priests are tired of always being asked about celbiacy, or a vegetarian always being asked about “how do they get their protein” (answer:beans)

    Writing is a tricky thing in that a lot of dreams are tied to it. It’s like winning the lottery for some people, or like being discovered as actor. I am not sure ill will is intended, just ignorance of the different between the dream and the reality.

    I don’t know how you get around it, having to deal with misunderstandings about what you love. Wiser and more patient people than me argue that one should be an ambassador, putting out the truth of things that don’t make people feel stupid, but instead give them insight to a part of the world they didn’t know about before.

    This is easier said than done.

  • Rebecca says:

    Thanks, Emily!

    Scott, of course I’m never rude to people but if it feels like they are listening I do try to point out what information they are missing and what they aren’t seeing.

    But I do think people need to be accountable for what they say–if you say that someone’s life’s work is really easy and kind of silly, or that anyone can do it if they felt like it, that’s hurtful and I’m ok with pointing it out (gently). I’m aware that this stuff happens in other industries and it’s a problem wherever it occurs. I try not to say dumb stuff like telling veterinarians that their jobs must be so fun because they can play with kittens, or that teachers must love having summers off. Most people work very hard and we all deserve respect for that!!

  • Scott Watson says:

    Hey Becky,

    Sorry, to clarify I would never imply that you were rude, I was asking going to get context. I was wondering if it was a matter of poor conservation skills.

    To put the topic a different way. What questions should non-writers ask writers?

  • Rebecca says:

    Oh, that’s a fun topic, SW! I ask people about their jobs all the time and I find really general basic questions that show my interest but don’t imply I know anything are good for drawing people out. “What sorts of projects do you work on?” “What is your favourite part of the job?” “How did you get started doing this sort of thing?”

    If you feel drawn to answering these questions yourself, maybe I should interview you about your job? I love doing that sort of thing–used to be a regular feature here at Rose-coloured!

  • Scott Watson says:

    I feel that I have been interviewed for this blog before? I can’t remember when we did it but I think my job has change only a little since then (although I am smarter now than I was then…hopefully).

    Or do you mean I interview you?

    Is “why do you write short stories instead of novels” an ok quesiton?

  • Carrie says:

    Heh heh heh. I like this post. I read it yesterday and was still thinking about it today, after spending the better part of day at work, at my desk, writing. No, it’s not accounting, but it’s still work, and sitting at a desk hour after hour is not the most fun ever, no matter what a person is doing.

    I would like to add my own pet peeve to the list, as a parent and sort of stay-at-home mom (my office is in our house and we have four kids, so I guess I’m technically home most of the time; does this make me a stay-at-home mom?) … Anyway. The comment is this: It must be so nice to be able to look after your kids while you stay home and write. This comment could only possibly be made by a) someone who has never spent time with children ever and b) someone who has never tried to write anything longer and more coherent than a text message. Parenting and writing DO NOT GO TOGETHER. Trust me. My kids are on summer holidays. I know this for sure. The only reason I got anything done today was because I found a neighbour kid to babysit my 7-year-old.

    And now my rant is all done. Thanks for yours! I enjoyed it (and would usually never say such things out loud).

  • Rebecca says:

    Ha, Carrie, that one sounds just as annoying as mine–I don’t get that one because I don’t have kids BUT once a writer friend (I forget who now) told me that people tried to leave their kids with her all the time because she was just “sitting around at home.” AS IF!!!

    Hope you are having a good summer!

  • Carrie says:

    Thanks, I hope you’re having a good summer too!

    PS This week I discovered the perfect work environment — inside my car, while sitting beside a soccer field (while one of my kids is at a soccer camp — I’m not just parking by random soccer fields, although I might, after making this discovery). No one knows me, no one interrupts me, and there’s no wifi. Most productive week all summer!

  • Rebecca says:

    No wifi–who knew there were such places anymore! Enjoy it!

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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