Monday, May 11, 2015
"Many people hear voices when no-one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stare at the walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing." –Margaret Chittenden
Maybe it was because of a recent birthday – thank you very much, that's very kind – or perhaps it's because I just realized that I've been at this, being a 'professional' author for over 20 years – shocking, I know – or possibly it's because of a few .... (ahem) sad experiences recently but I want to revisit something I've said before.
I really wonder about writers. Okay, internet, let's hear what you have to say: artists, musicians, actors ... how to you treat your fellow creators? I used to have a wonderful roomie who was a musician. We used to chat all the time about this, that, and other things but a lot about how even though there's a sense of competition among his fellows there was also a lot of camaraderie: he'd come home full of bright energy from playing for hours and hours with other musicians ... just jamming.
Meanwhile I'd spent the night struggling with getting a stubborn story to cooperate, but mostly dealing with one insanely arrogant writer after another demanding they receive special treatment (oh, as a matter of transparency, I work as an editor and a publisher in addition to trying to deal with my own writing 'career'). This all came to a head when I realized that for those two decades of being a published about I currently have only a dozen or so fellow authors I consider to be 'friends' (and Facebook doesn't count).
Sure – as a writer myself – I can understand why ... but that doesn't make it right. Again, I'm not sure what it's like to be a painter, actor, photographer, musician, or victim of any other creative pursuit, but writing is damned hard: we get little or no respect, no money, and everyone and their Great Aunt Maude thinks they can do it as well. Our years of work, the care and concern we put into our stories and novels, are ignored unless we sell something – and then only if it makes millions – or if you take home some pretty little trophy. If you have a day job – and every writer out there does, and if they aren't then they're either lying or a member of the rare 1% of writers – you know the deafening silence that comes when you mention finishing a work.
But what's worse is that far too often it seems that the greatest barrier every writer must face ... are other writers. Like said, it's understandable ... but not excusable: we get our teeth bashed in, our souls crushed, our work ignored – or slammed by trolls – and so, wounded, we try to bolster our scarred egos by wrapping ourselves in a cloak of supposed superiority.
Write erotica? I'm better than a pornographer. Write science fiction? I'm better than a romance writer. Write romance? I'm better than a thriller writer. Write thrillers? I'm better than a science fiction writer. Have 5,000 Facebook 'friends'? I'm better than someone with none. Won an award? I'm better than anyone who hasn't. Write for a blog or site? I'm better than anyone who doesn't. Have an agent? I'm better than someone who doesn't have one. Write a novel? I'm better than anyone who hasn't. Sold to a 'big' publisher? Then I'm better than anyone who hasn’t. Sold a book for five figures? Then I'm better than someone who hasn't. A professional? Then I'm better than someone who hasn't sold a word. Become a 'name'? Then I'm better than anyone who isn't.
No, it's fucking pathetic.
Oh, I've heard all the lame justifications for this arrogance: if I treated everyone equally then I'd never have time to write, that everyone has to earn their stripes, that you should take public pride in your accomplishments. But that's exactly what they are: excuses. The bottom line isn't taking time, or the fear of becoming a full-time mentor or support system. The awful trust is that treating other writers poorly makes weaker authors feel more important.
Like said, I understand it – and, I'm ashamed to say I've fallen victim to be on more than once occasion. But that doesn't mean I'm not aware of it – as well as despising myself when I do it.
But it doesn't have to be this way.
The idea of basic human kindness aside ... actually, I should just stop there: why shouldn’t you help other writers? Answer emails, try to help as much as possible, don’t treat others as less than what you are, offer opportunities, be inclusive, don't become cliquish, don't ask for special treatment ... we are all in this together.
Okay, so you want a pragmatic reason? How about this old chestnut: be careful of who you step on while you're moving up – because you'll be meeting them on the way down. Every writer begins the same way, which means that not only do we all share the same pain and frustration but that that annoying little upstart you're dismissing could very well be the person who be in a position to do some tremendous professional good, or – even better – become a true and wonderful friend.
Money does not equal skill, awards are pointless, popularity comes and goes ... if you write, if you work hard on your craft, and if you have the incredible bravery to actually send your work out into the world then you deserve respect. If you don't get it from other writers don't blame yourself or your work: you've just encountered the shameful side of the world of professional writing.
But don't let them beat you down and certainly don't roll that shit downhill. Yes, wish those that treat you poorly into the cornfield ... but keep your door open, and offer the hand you wish you'd receive. I'm an atheist but I do believe in the maxim "Treat others the way you'd wish to be treated."
This can be a monstrously hard thing to do – being a writer – but it doesn't have to be.
And always, always, always remember that no writer is better than any other ... and if you disagree with that then face it: you're part of the problem.