Monday, November 05, 2007

Writing is Work, or Dealing with the Practical Person

Chasing words like shadows, trying to capture them with a net, and finding they can always slip through no matter how fine the mesh is—that's only half the battle of writing.

There are obstacles to any art form that is shared beyond just the creator. Critics—who bring a mixture of critique and just criticism, the fear of success, and the heartache of those "no thank you" letters are things any writer seeking publication might encounter.

Before you even reach THE END, there's another roadblock to find your way around—overcoming the necessity to validate why it is we want to sit alone in a room for hours on end. Even if you are one of those social writers—who I envy with white mac books in the coffeehouse—you still make the magic happen when your eyes see into a middle distance that may not even be on this world.

Try explaining what appears to be anti-social/dissociative tendencies as "work" to someone who doesn't function every day in a creative capacity. You'll realize those blue pencil cafe sessions might as well feature a gingham blanket and sandwiches from a wicker basket.

Non-creative people, let's call them Practicals, don't work well with abstracts. If they could, they'd be more creative, and this language barrier wouldn't exist, and none of us would need to explain why we would possibly want to spend more time with people who aren't "real" than those who are. (If you happen to be a creative non-fiction writer, you're got a foot in the door of the "real" world, but don't be snobbish, you're just as weird as the rest of us.)

Often, when you meet a Practical, and you make that tiny social misstep of answering "I'm a writer" to the common question of "what do you do?", you'll be rewarded with a smile and the follow-up of "are you published?"

I know, it's frustrating, but you mustn't reply "no, ass-hat, if I was published, I'd be an author." No good comes from belittling the Practicals. Remember, if they began discussing mortgage rates and office promotions, you might feel equally unsure in your conversational footing.

Yes, for writers there's a distinction to when you may refer to yourself as an author or use italics for the title of your book. It's a rite of passage—like being entrusted with a secret sorority handshake.

One may say to another writer "I wrote 4012 words yesterday" and be understood, because we all speak a common professional language. (Remember when you first came to understand how short 500 words really was?) Few Practicals can translate our wordcount jargon into a measurement they can quantify.

Thus the need for a physical object Practicals can hold in their hands to use as a measure of our success. This sounds disparaging, for which I apologize, but trust me. It's the first step to helping ease the Practical's inexperience with the idea of writing as a viable job-skill and not "playing on the computer."

This is why we seek publication like Arthur sought the grail. It's our undeniable proof—the physical representation of our accomplishments that our Practical friends and family can fully grasp. It signifies that what we do requires a skill we deserve recognition and payment for.

Yes, payment. If it sounds like doublethink to expect monetary reimbursement for your creativity, allow me to explain.

I write because I fucking love it. Make no mistake of that—only a fool writes for the sole purpose of being published. However, my indulgence led to developing a skill. Should I choose to employ my skill as a livelihood or a supplement to my livelihood, I need to be paid for it.

There is no "selling out," and work-for-hire is not a "compromise" of your artistic integrity. Erase those notions from your mind. If this is your career, you're going to have to occasionally be a Practical about it.

How, you ask, does one who doesn't have a contract or a book on a shelf communicate with Practicals? Courage. Tell them what you do. Endure the blank stare with a smile and patiently answer their hesitant questions. Practicals secretly wish they were creative, it's where a lot of their mistrust of us comes from, so take away the mystery of it. When they say "oh, I could never write a novel" tell them they could. (Actually, anyone can write a manuscript. Only a published novelist has written a novel, but don't argue semantics with Practicals. It makes you seem pretentious.)

You may find most Practicals are creative—they just don't know it yet.

Good luck. If all else fails, print off your work-in-progress and hit them with it. It's hard to deny a few pounds of paper impacting your skull.*

*Dreaming in Red does not endorse the abuse of Practicals. Even if I did, I would never encourage it to involve manuscripts, as obviously hardcover editions would be far more effective.

4 comments:

Rachel said...

Heh! What you said!

Christina said...

Speaking of which, I was thinking, when all this school is behind me, in about a year or two when I forgot the hell of it, we should think about taking a writing class together, though I am going to look into the groups you suggested. I just need the time at the moment. We were talking about titles in class today. I brought up Kim Harrison's because she's pretty witty.

Rachel Vincent said...

Ha! You said "ass-hat" in a blog post. Love it!

C.Rooney said...

"Ass-hat" is one of my new favorite words. :D