Friday, 15 November 2013

Writing For Respect: A Mission of Crushing Disappointment

Well, there's a depressing title for you. "Thanks a lot, Wendy Christopher! I thought you were all for being encouraging and supportive to your fellow writers - and here you are, peeing all over their dreams. You turncoat, you!"

Relax, and put that blunt instrument down, please. I am very much on the side of my fellow writers - be they seasoned veterans or fledgling newbies. Which is precisely why I'm raising this rather thorny topic in the first place.

Indulge me for a moment, if you please, by thinking of that moment in your head when you first decided you wanted to be a real, 'proper' writer. As in, one who wrote stuff lots of people would actually read someday - and like! This moment may have happened years ago for you, it may have been a fairly recent desire or you may have only just had it now because I mentioned it; no matter, any way you shake it out it's completely relevant to where I'm heading with this. What did you imagine were the carrots on offer?

We can start with the obvious one of getting to spend regular portions of your life doing something you love - that is kind of a necessary bonus if you want to really make a go of it, after all. Well, the good news is, you can have that one for free. Comes with the territory, you might say. Maybe you hope to make some money out of it - even earn an actual living out of your writing. We-ell... it may happen and it may not. Work hard enough at it for long enough and who knows? Or perhaps you even fantasised just a little about fame skipping hand-in-hand with the fortune - you, the next J.K. Rowling/E.L. James/George R.R. Martin! No shame in that; dreams are, after all, what keep us walking down the road to our goals. (Although it's probably better to at least acknowledge that having this one come true is a bit more of an ask from the fickle Hand of Fate.)

But here's the one I'm interested in; how many of you thought "Once I make it as a writer, all those people who doubted me or dismissed my writing ambitions as a waste of time or pointless dreaming will finally respect me - and my writing! They'll have to - because I'll have proved all my hard work was worth it in the end!"

This is not an unreasonable thing to hope for, not at all. If you started out as a mail clerk in an office and slowly worked your way up to manager level, people would acknowledge that you'd gone up in the world and you done good, go you, etc. It's simple logic; you went from the bottom to higher up the tree, and that's something that will impress even the most hardened cynic...

In any ordinary, non-creative field, that is. The painful truth is, in the fields of writing, performing or art of any kind, it doesn't seem to work that way.

The average lay person does not assume that the job of, say, a brain surgeon, is easy-peasy and that anyone can do it (and if you also look really hot that helps you enormously to be a much better brain surgeon - far more than any, y'know, actual talent for it... ) They also don't assume that, if you're not a really famous brain surgeon and hardly anybody's heard of you (because they've never seen you on telly on in 'Heat' magazine) then you must also be a totally shite brain surgeon who's just deluding themselves that doing all those operations without killing anyone makes them good at brain surgery. And yet writers and artists are judged this way all the time - by those who are not writers and artists themselves (and - it pains me to say - even by some who are.)

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying for a second that, in terms of services to mankind, an artist or writer can compare with a brain surgeon; if I had something wrong with my cranium, I know who I'd prefer to have scrubbing up for my op. But it's no exaggeration to say that, when it comes to gaining respect as a creative person, the bar is raised way higher, right from the start.

'So, you're a writer, are you? What have you written? Never heard of that. So, are you, like, really rich? Oh, you still have an ordinary job as well, do you? Not actually a successful writer then? Bzzzz! Sorry, but it's a 'no' from me - come back when you're J.K. Rowling and then maybe we'll talk...'

And here's the hardest piece of gristle to chew on; the odds are depressingly high that anyone and everyone you know who started out with that mindset when you first told them (or they found out) you wanted to be a writer... will continue to feel that same way forever. Or until you do actually become J.K. Rowling and could buy them a Porsche with the loose change in your wallet. Just being happy, doing what you love and creating all this stuff out of thin air and imagination, will remain as worthless a pursuit in their minds as it ever was. And they will never, ever change their opinion about that. Only fame and fortune of the most ridiculous proportions is likely to impress. Maybe. But don't put money on it. If you're hoping that having success as a writer will finally make your unsupportive friends and family see you in a whole new light and respect your creativity... you're pouring a lot of energy into one big black hole.

I promise I'm not telling you that to make you cry, or make you throw down your writing tools and give up on your writing (god no - never do that.) I'm telling you so that - I hope - you can feel okay about letting go of any need/desire to 'prove yourself.' Do what you do - for you, not for their approval. You don't need to prove a damn thing to anyone, and you certainly don't have to 'justify' your choice to be a writer or artist of any flavour.

If you want to push yourself, to stretch yourself to the very limits of your creativity or pour your whole life and soul into your craft, then go right ahead - and enjoy the ride. But don't make yourself miserable leaping through hoops of fire in a nylon tutu that doesn't fit properly, hoping to finally get a round of applause from an audience who aren't interested in the show anyway.

Forget about them - save your best shows for the people that 'get it.' Do what you want to do and do it your way - because when you love what you do, it shows. And that's what makes other people love it too.


  1. This is so right on... Nice to see it articulated.

  2. Why thank you! It's always a pleasure to meet fellow maverick souls too - I had a little gander at your website ;^) Like the mission statement!