Monday, January 31, 2011

Why friends and family don't take you seriously as a writer

From The Orphan Kittens


Let's start with some basics.

There's been a dislike and distrust of intelligence in America for a long time. This feeling is rooted in a fundamental American work ethic. For generations, we've been inundated with the idea that the only thing worthwhile in life is to work hard and get ahead. We've idolized farmers and factory workers, at least as far as showing them as the epitome of the hard-working American public. And there's nothing intrinsically wrong with that idea. Hard work is important and we should all appreciate those people and the work they do.
However . . . .
Many have come to believe that the only worthy work is sweaty and for the most part miserable, though needful. If you like your job, people tend to think it must not be hard work, because hating your job has almost become a requirement of life these days. People will tolerate working intelligence -- i.e., teachers, professors, people in the medical profession -- but mostly because we can see how hard the majority of them work, as well.
Even within the workforce, the moment a regular worker steps up to a higher spot -- manager or boss -- people begin to distrust him because he is now using a brain rather than brawn to get work done, and because (of course) it puts the person in a position to have his ideas translated into their work. People tend not to trust those who show their intelligence unless they are Stephen Hawking or Albert Einstein who think in ways the rest of us just cannot. There doesn't appear to be a middle ground.
And that means people who use their brains rather than their brawn are often dismissed as not really working . This attitude especially gets aimed at writers because not only do we sit and think a lot, most of us don't make a lot of money at it. Ah, and if we do, we'll immediately come under attack, often from other writers. Look at all the slams against Stephen King and J.K. Rowlings, both of whom have found their audiences, but whom other writers dismiss as hacks.
Writing is not the same sort of hard work as standing for hours in a factory line shoving pieces of wire into place and soldering them as quickly as you can. I've done that work. It was miserable. I've worked in stores, I've taken care of other people's kids -- I know there is harder physical work out there: Work that is mind-numbing, miserable and exhausting.
The problem is that people want all work to be the same and people who do not write have no real comprehension of how difficult it is to write well. Worse yet, if they are also not regular readers, they assume that if someone is writing, they are writing for everyone, including them. They pick something up, think it's awful (because they are not the market) and attach that thought to every book and writer.
All they can imagine for writing is someone sitting down and putting words on a page. They don't understand that there is a learning curve and considerable practice until most writers are ready for publication. Learning is for school and the idea of any sort of apprenticeship where you learn the craft makes no sense to them. They're only words: you can talk, you can write, what's the big deal about writing a story?
They can't understand the specific steps leading up to fiction (and most nonfiction) writing: nursing a spark of imagination into an idea, working the idea into a plot, working the plot into thousands of words of story . . . and then editing and editing and editing before submitting it somewhere, only to be told it doesn't work for that market.
How many of you have faced these scenarios?
1. You are working on your manuscript's first draft. Someone asks you what you are doing and you say writing a book. And the immediate question is 'When will it be published?' because it's assumed all you have to do is write and publication is a given.
2. You tell someone you are a writer and they ask what your 'real' work is.
3. You're working on your book and friends or family tell you that you need to stop wasting time and do something like watch television with them.
You may not have even thought about what these things meant in a larger context. The first is as much a lack of understanding about the process as anything, but the other two are signs that these people don't take your writing seriously. It's not real work and it's not important. (Though do take note that there is a difference between never wanting you to write and sometimes wanting to spend time with you and maybe watch a show or movie.)
And here is the irony of the situation: Most people don't like to write because they think it's too boring and hard work for them. They'll admit the hard work on a personal level (though not in the context of 'real' work), but not apply the hard work part to someone whom they may know.
For the most part, you can't change their attitudes. Once you sell something, you have a better chance of winning some people over because your words now have a monetary value. Before you do so, though, you'll be wasting your time (as though it's not your time anyway) and if you do happen to make it big, you'll apparently be wasting other people's time.
Unless you can take those pages out and exchange them for an hourly paycheck, you're wasting your time.
You'd be better spending your time watching television.

1 comment:

J.A. Marlow said...

And don't forget about asking you to run errands for them, babysit, help with project. Because you are home and 'only writing' so you must have plenty of time! What you are doing really isn't THAT important. :\