Note: This blog post was originally drafted some months a go – before I culled all the writer types I speak of later on from my Twitter feed. As such, I feel OK/safe to post it now! Though I will add a disclaimer: If you are a writer and you read this, take it all with a pinch of salt. (Or take a good look at your Twitter feed and decide if you might be in the next round of culling.) 😉
To quote the American writer James Baldwin :
“The price one pays for pursuing any profession or calling is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side.”
How true of writing I have found this to be in recent months. Not so much its ugly side, for ugly is a very strong adjective, but certainly I have come to a deeper appreciation of the not so glamorous nature of a profession or hobby which is so often seen as desirable, free, easy, bohemian, unique. Hell, writing isn’t work, it’s leisure, isn’t it?
I know, before I delved into the world of writing via Twitter and blogging, I certainly held those beliefs. What better way to wile away the hours than by creating something wonderful with words? Playing with them, allowing thoughts to spill onto the page, uninterrupted prose and poetry where worlds are created and minds are changed. How relaxing it will be! How wonderful, sitting at a desk overlooking beautiful scenery, drinking copious amounts of caffeinated liquid refreshments, using all that beautiful stationary you’ve been hoarding for years. Oh yes, it will be bliss. Perhaps go to writer conventions and the such and hob-knob with other bohemian writers who of course are all so relaxed and easy going from all that writing they do. How interesting they will all be too.
Well another famous saying is: “familiarity breeds contempt.” Contempt, like ugly, is also a very emotive and strong word, yet I can’t help feel my immersion in the world of writing has indeed had this affect. Slightly.
Now before I have a load of writers vindicate me for this, I’d just like to say I have been very privileged to have met some of the nicest, most down to earth, most humble, most hilarious, most helpful and, in some cases, truly caring individuals through Twitter. Great writers, great people, trying to make their way in the world of writing, just as I am.
However, there are two sides to every coin, and for the most part I am beginning to find many of the things about writers and writing which I thought I’d love, starting to grate on me slightly. Oh okay not slightly. You all know me by now. There will be a list. It will have numerous points which go off at tangents, but I’m determined to stick to my word count, so let’s go and explode those myths I used to hold and find out why I’m finding the world of writing a little grating right now.
Truth 1: Desirability.
It is, for the most part, an effort to even get to a point where you are sitting in front of a screen to start writing. It is not relaxing (most of the time, despite the enjoyment it can bring.) If it’s an occupation – your actual job – it’s not going to be particularly relaxing for there are deadlines to meet and agents to please and publishers to appease. And if, like most writers out there on Twitter, this is not an occupation, it is then essentially, a hobby (although so many would never admit to that… ‘it’s a vocation, a ‘need’…but that’s another story) then it’s not relaxing because you’re trying to scrape together any precious time you might have, when you’re not shattered from the job that pays your bills or the kids or fixing the leaking radiator valve that is. The truth is that, despite the hoards of writers out there, only a tiny proportion of people calling ourselves ‘writers’ in the Twitterverse are doing it for a living… RIGHT NOW. Though let’s not kid ourselves. We all want it to be more than that. We’d all love to write that magic bestseller and then live off the back of it so we can write for ever more and not have to drag ourselves to that day job which serves only to take away our precious writing time. Then of course we’d live inside that bohemian bubble I mentioned at the top of the post. Won’t we? Oh no, I’ve already pointed out that any professional writer – the famous ones, even the not so famous ones who sell lots of books – will tell you what a load of poppycock that is. It’s hard work, like any job. Full stop. Still, I’m not out to smash anyone’s dreams here, least of all my own. Also I’ve noticed that actual authors who are best selling are not out there tweeting motivational writing stuff at you or giving us a daily word count. Why? Well, because they didn’t get to be a best selling author by tweeting & blogging their life away. They don’t have the time either. So perhaps we should stop all that and get the hell on with actually writing.
Truth 2: Ease.
It’s bloody hard. Writing is not very easy. It’s fun, at times, but it is not easy. Getting all the elements right: Plot, character arcs, grammar, punctuation, voice, style, showing not bloody telling, editing: It’s a pain in the backside much of the time. There is just so much to the whole thing it can make your brain hurt. It makes my brain hurt even though, when I’m in the zone, (not often) I love it.
Truth 3: Caffeine.
Apparently if you’re a writer you sit on your backside all day attached to an intravenous coffee drip. Oh, sorry correction: Your bohemian lifestyle means you float about all day waiting for your muse to strike and then you’re up in the wee small hours and so need caffeine in order to function. (At least if you scroll down your Twitter feed this is what you’d be led to believe.) I don’t drink caffeine when I’m writing. First of all because I don’t need it to function, anymore than I need chocolate or alcohol or a hole in the head. I write in daylight hours because I need sleep more than anything else. And when I am writing I don’t have time, or the inclination, to raise myself up out of the seat to make myself a drink when in the zone (because I’m working and concentrating and in flow.) Oddly I don’t have a butler either to fetch it for me, but that’ll be because I’m not living the dream as a ‘real’ writer, rather I’m still trying to scrape together a living as a teacher (the other ‘dream’ job which, having now been immersed intimately in for 17 years, has definitely shown me its ugly side, warts and all. (A little teaching humour there. Warts… Kids always have warts on their fingers…oh okay, forget it. ) Moving on…
Truth 4: Writer’s Conventions and Writer’s Groups
Ooh, a whole day/weekend with other writers. What joy, what fun. People to talk to who understand what the hell you’re talking about! Are you kidding? I’m an introvert. Mixing it up with a bunch of strangers is my idea of hell. Mixing it up with a bunch of strangers who are incredibly more talented and knowledgeable than me wold be utterly intimidating. (I’m intimidated by and in awe of the writers and authors on the other side of computer screen, for crying out loud.) Being a real author and having to do book signings and meet the public and go to conferences and conventions…Oh yes, sounds like everything I’ve ever dreamed of…. I’d of course, end up back in schools doing talks to children for the most part, (what with writing a kid’s book) and that I could do, quite easily. But that’s not glamorous and bohemian now is it?
Truth 5: Stationary Looks Pretty (but serves no real function).
Writing via the modern way of word processing means a lot less use of any form of traditional stationary. It looks really pretty, it’s absolutely beautiful, but the use of it is limited and rather limiting in this day and age and as I’m fairly old fashioned I find this a crying shame. I use it when I can, but basically for research and outlining. The actual stories, the nitty gritty of writing gets done on my knee or at my MDF desk (no not oak or mahogany or walnut) on a dull, charcoal coloured, machine. Oh and I don’t have beautiful countryside scenery to inspire me either.
Truth 5: A Bohemian Lifestyle living in Floaty Land.
Nothing about my writing life is bohemian. Perhaps it’s because I have a day job. More likely it’s because I have a six year old. How I long to be able to mosey on down to the local coffee shop/deli/pub (er..though actually I’d have to catch a bus/train) and wile away the hours tapping into my muse and infiltrating my mind with the sights, the sounds, the passing people with their quirks and mannerisms; collecting writing gold. However, having a child means, whatever you do they always come first. Always. Day job comes second then life, family, friends, chores, reading (cos that’s like writing homework) come third and writing has to be last. I know some may argue it doesn’t and shouldn’t (oh, rules, rules, rules..pah!), but those people invariably don’t have kids, or indeed I would think, a life. No, instead of writing constantly, I snatch a few moments here, a couple of hours there in an evening. occasionally I might, just might, get a whole day to myself, and when I do I don’t always choose to spend it writing. SHOCK! HORROR! Beat me now. Which brings me to…
Twitter, as I have said, is full of lovely writers who are supportive and reciprocal. I have found myself a great band of merry men and women, who I think all gravitate towards one another because we all share the same no bullshit, non pretentious, non preachy philosophy, in that none of us see ourselves as experts at this.
However, not everyone is like this, and I’ve noticed an ‘ugly’ side to the writing community which, I have to say, I picked up on early, but the more people I follow, the more I see it. I have actually cut down a large number of writers I follow, and do not actively follow most other writers anymore for these reasons. Seems I’m becoming far more socially discerning than perhaps is good for me. Nevertheless, I cannot change me. The following is a list of the types of writers I’ve found Twitter to contain (after all the lovely, normal, let’s just get on with it writers I just spoke about.) It is these types who are gradually eroding my faith and pleasure in writing and the whole business, as well as social media to be used as a ‘platform’.
1) The Preachy Writer.
Writers (however amateur) who tweet and blog about what you should and should not be doing. Now, I’m sorry, when did you become my mother? I’m not talking about writing advice such as ‘don’t use unnecessary adverbs’ or ‘ensure your character has a goal (though in all honesty, there is so much advice like that out there, I’m shocked there is any creativity left and we’re not all writing to a robotic formula.)
No, what I’m talking about are those writers who scream tweets at me to WRITE, WRITE, WRITE! As though when I’m not writing I am some sort of lesser being than they. My advice to those writers is: STOP TWEETING AT ME TO GO AND WRITE, AND GO AND WRITE YOURSELF! It’s condescending crap at its best. It’s also stupidly ironic. They tweet about how many words they have or haven’t written every bloody day, as though quality can be achieved through pure quantity. (Because they probably read on a preachy blog somewhere once that it doesn’t matter what you write, just write.) Well it matters to me. Why should I write crap for the sake of getting words on a page? We’re okay with that are we? (Wait for some to say: yes! It’s okay because you’re writing. Anything!) By all means, do write and write and write and write, if that’s for you. Please, just don’t tweet about it all the time because quite frankly its irrelevant, it’s boring and it’s bossy. I am not going to be motivated by that. I will write when I want to. (As a months absence from my blog will show you.)
2) The Obsessive Writer.
Heh, aren’t I great? All I ever do is write! (when I’m not tweeting about writing.) These writers do seem almost robotic, and overlap with the Preachy Writer above. Quite often they are one and the same. person. They use the hashtag ‘Write’, like that is all there is to it. As though writing (or indeed doing anything) is THAT simple. It is seemingly all they tweet about. It is their life. Hmmmmm. It seems many of these writers, (often much younger than I, with little life experience) are so busy writing, they aren’t living. Maybe writing is living and if it is for you, well good luck to you. But please, don’t preach that lifestyle at the rest of us. I write when I can. I don’t need a guilt trip whenever I don’t write. I write for a purpose which is mainly because I enjoy it, or I have a rant to get off my chest (like now). It doesn’t make me any lesser for not doing it every second of every day. I don’t have to be obsessed with something to be good at it. I’m not obsessed with teaching, but I’m good at it. I don’t do it every day either. This idea that one should write everyday, regardless of all else in your life, is utter nonsense. I know some who write all the time (at least so it would seem from Twitter) and yet I’ve dipped my toe in their pool of literature and thought “Oh, seemingly practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect. Other than eating, sleeping, showering and brushing your teeth what other activities do any of us actually do EVERY day? It is ridiculous to believe anyone can write everyday. We all take holidays from our jobs, I bet even professional writers do. Also, if you’re forcing yourself to write simply because you feel you should be doing it, because someone tweet-shouted at you to do it, or a blog post told you to do it, how much are you really enjoying it? Really? Be honest. (Okay, you might be. That might be your personality but it is not everyone else’s.)
3) The ‘Luvvie’ Writer
The other thing I can’t stand, and I have said this before on the blog, is false praise. Twitter can seem full of writers sucking up to other writers and telling them how wonderful they are. Don’t get me wrong, I do this at times. AT TIMES – to a few writers I really admire, whose work I feel really is worthy of praise, but I’ll often do it via DM rather than on the timeline. What annoys me though is writers telling other writers how fabulous their writing is, just to try and be supportive. Please don’t do that. I have read some of the rubbish you’ve praised before praising mine and I can’t help but wonder: have you got bad taste or are you just this falsely nice to everyone in the hope that when the time comes they’ll buy your book? I don’t need that. I need constructive feedback. My work is not very good. I am a novice, so it needs lots of work still. And yes, I know, I know, all art is subjective so we can’t all like the same things and perhaps you genuinely don’t have especially high standards or you simply like different stuff to me. However, if I regard my writing to be better than the thing I just read (and believe me, I’m my harshest critic) which you said was the best thing you ever read, and you’ve said mine is wonderful too, I’m not going to hold your opinion in very high regard. (Read that sentence again: It does make sense!) Too much ‘luvviness” goes on. Be supportive without being insincere. It is possible.
4) The ‘Woe Is Me’ Tortured Soul Writer.
Oh good Lord above, if you do exist, please stop these people. The writers who just love to moan about how hard writing is. All the time. They love to procrastinate too and goodness knows I’ve fallen into this trap at times, but there are some I see this from daily! Daily! Go and get a real job if it’s so damn hard. I know I said writing is hard earlier on in this post and it is. It really is. But I mean, come on you’re not down a coal mine are you? It’s hard sure, (i.e it’s not the free and easy lounge about ride the outside world seems to think it is, at least not if you’re really serious about it) but wow. Really? Grow a pair. Writers are not unique super-humans who have a harder time than anyone else, though a lot of these “woe is me” writers seem to think they are. Oh the angst, the angst! *Faints. They also seem to like bragging about the fact they are different, in a unique league of their own. No we’re not. We are not any more special than anyone else, though it feels from some of the tweets and blogs I read many think they are. Like an Aryan race only, to fit in, one must have a quill and ink instead of blonde hair and blue eyes.
5) The ‘I’m a Writer So Obviously I’m Mad Cap-Crazy’ Writer.
Oh enough already. We know you’re a creative genius, but do you have these conversations about the kind of crap which makes no sense that you tweet in your real life? Do you? If you do, can you keep it there please? Though I suspect in reality you’re actually a dull, suburban housewife who can stay at home all day to write as your husband’s mega rich and so can play the mad cap, “I’m crazy, me” writer thing.
6) The ‘BUY MY BOOK OR ELSE THE WORLD WILL END!’ Writer.
These writers tweet only links to their Amazon/Wattpad/other website page or their own website or the amazing reviews they have had on their one book. Their first interaction with a new follower on Twitter is to Direct Message with a link to Amazon.
I’m sorry, why, of all the millions of books (classics and new ones) in the world I haven’t read yet, would you think for one second that when you hit the follow button and then I followed you back that I automatically will want to buy your book? I don’t, so stop with the impersonal marketing campaign, masquerading as a personal marketing campaign. I’ve actually now stopped following back writers whose bio only mentions their book. You are a person, no? You like to interact with people no? No? Oh well then sorry, you have not much hope in hell of selling your book using the power of social media. The clue is in the word. Socialise. I mean, me personally, I’m unlikely to buy your book as I’m a notoriously slow reader and extremely picky about what I read, but if you talk to me, get to know me, I am about 50% more likely to invest in reading your work. Really. Honestly. Truly. It’s how I discover good writers. If they tweet in an engaging way, if they write interesting blog content, if their tweets are written in a style I like, then I will usually check out their work.
(Caveat: I am on Twitter to socialise nowadays, after being tricked into thinking I needed an online ‘presence’ for if I ever become an author. We live and learn, hey? I am writing a children’s novel. I will never expect my followers to want to buy my book, should I ever get it out there in the wide world. They might be interested if they have kids and if they have gotten to know me. One thing is for damn sure, I know the way not to market it. And it’s NOT via tweeting constant links to it.)
So what have we learnt here today? Other than the fact that I have just committed social suicide among my fellow writing community? Or other than the fact that I am a cantankerous, grouchy old so and so who has no tolerance of the world and its ways whatsoever?
Am I an annoying wannabe writer, just another of the seemingly millions thronging their way through Twitter? Yes, yes, I probably am. And for that, my fellow writers I apologise. 🙂
Though I think possibly, I’ve just proven I’m not ready to be a serious author for a long time yet. I don’t have the same passion as all the other types of writers I’ve just slated above. Maybe I just like writing as a hobby and that is enough for me. For now. And you know what? I think I’m okay with that. Funny what you realise once you’ve rambled on for three-thousand odd words.
Thanks as always if you’ve got to the end of the post. I’ll be giving out medals at some point. 🙂