e_moon60 (e_moon60) wrote,

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Having a Writing Life...

...includes having a real life.   To which writers, like anyone else, are entitled.

This message brought to you thanks to several writer-blogs on the topic lately (thanks to Robin McKinley, Neil Gaiman
    and Patrick Rothfuss), whose own elegant and forceful comments on the Entitlement to Run Authors' Lives are here referenced.  Go read them

Here are some of my own, prompted not only by agreement with these writers' position, but also by some of the comments following the various blog posts and my own experience.

The use of emotive negative descriptions of the writing process, including writers' choices of what to write next,  is common among non-writers (and some writers, who should know better.)   It's part of the "Othering" McKinley speaks of and the sense of Entitlement, that the outsider--the reader or critic or reviewer or other writer--is entitled to set the rules not only for what he/she likes in a book, but how all books should be written.  At what speed, on what topics, with what content, et cetera and so on to the farthest bounds of literature.  According to this model, to which I do not subscribe,  there is One Right Way to write a book, and One Right Book to write, and anyone who doesn't do it that way--doesn't write fast enough, writes too fast, doesn't write standalone individual books, doesn't write skinny-enough books, doesn't write fat-enough books, doesn't write trilogies, doesn't write series, whatever that individual has chosen as the One Right Way and One Right Book, is a fool and a poseur who deserves to be harried into conformity.

Writers as a whole are not good at being harried into conformity.  Every once in awhile they turn around and the busy little heel-nipping sheepdogs of the world discover that writers have teeth and  know how to use them.  (Then some incompetent little wuss of a writer-harrying sheepdog yelps and whimpers that a writer was mean and not nice and hurrrt them.  Yes.  Go heel-nip something safe, like your Congressman.)

The mythology that's grown up in the past century about how writers write, why writers write, and who decides what writers write (and who should decide what and when and how writers write)  does not help.   Here's are some facts for you to ponder.   Writers are not all alike.  They are not all equally gifted and identical persons whose different writing speeds, styles, themes, tone, etc. are deliberate choices to exploit this or that aspect of their talent.  Nor do they have identical life circumstances.

Some are naturally fast writers who can write 5000 words a day (not "churn out" thank you very much: WRITE)  and some are naturally slow writers who can write 200 words a day...and both may write at the same level of quality.  Or they may not.  Each writer has a natural speed at which he or she can write day after day and produce the best he or she can do.   You cannot tell, from the finished product, the speed at which it was written...it is possible to write very badly very slowly.

Some are natural short-fiction writers with a natural length of a few hundred to a few thousand words, and some are natural long-story writers, whose natural story length may be 60,000 words or 600,000 or some intermediate length.   Experienced writers may be able to write pretty-darn-good stories of another length (occasionally at least)  but they're usually happiest at their natural length.   It is unfair (and downright wrong) to assume that writers who lean toward the very long story published in multiple volumes was "pressured" by someone to write those other volumes and "gave in" or "kowtowed" to that pressure...it sometimes happens, but not nearly as often as comments I see and hear suggest.   Some (and I am one) have a natural story-length that exceeds the reasonable size of one volume (or two, or three, or...) 

Some writers are naturally good at intricate plotting; some aren't.  Some are naturally good at "dark" and some aren't.  Some are best at characterization; some are best at some other aspect of the book.   Writers do not choose their literary strengths and weaknesses--those come with the original package.  And no matter how hard they work on the weakness, it's not going to become their strength--they have to compensate somewhere else in the story.   So all the comments I've seen/heard about so-and-so choosing to write X, or kowtowing to pressure to write X, ignores the possibility that X is what that writer *can* write, and that the writer is happy to write X instead of not writing at all.   (I don't write mysteries because I can't, not because I wouldn't like to.)

Some writers have day (or night) jobs; some don't.  Some have families to support; some don't.  Some are coping with personal tragedy, or pursuing their other passion (whatever that may be).  Some thrive in cities; others thrive in the country.  And all have non-writing Stuff going on all the time.  These non-writing-life parts of their lives make their writing what it is--you can't pare all that away from a writer and get the same writing output.

Writers have the right to be who they are, with the talents they have, and--on top of that--the life that isn't just about writing (and especially not just about satisfying a particular reader.)   They have a right to down time; they have a right to cope with the other side of their life and their writing life, in the way that best suits them.  They have a right to privacy--to disclose or not disclose, as they choose, whether to explain why a book is darker/less dark, longer/less long, different from or similar to, any other book they wrote or someone else wrote.

Readers have the right to like or not like a given writer's work...to buy or not buy the book.   What they get, when they've bought the book, is the book.  That book.  Not the next book.  Not a share in the writer (as if the writer were a corporation and they were shareholders who had a right to determine the company's future.)   Buying someone's book--or liking someone's book, even a lot--does not entitle readers to interfere.  Someone once said to me "Well, we made you--you owe us." 

No.  That person did not "make" me, or my career, and what I owe any reader, my best writing, I had already given.   I put thousands of hours into each book--I'm the one who made something.   If it entertained you, if reading my book brought you a few hours respite from problems in your life, or changed your life for the better in some way, or taught you something you then realized you'd wanted to learn, then the right response is one of gratitude.   On my part, if you bought my book, and especially if you liked it, then I am grateful (but not bought and paid for.)  We can be mutually appreciative without being mutually controlling.  That's the healthy relationship between a writer and a reader who likes that writer's work. 

And what if you hate someone's work?  Then don't read it.  If you can't find any books you like, write one of your own (muah-ha-ha-ha! That's how a lot of us got started.)  But don't bug writers for not writing the book you wanted.  And what if you, the writer, know that some people don't like your work?  Ignore that.   They have as much right to not-like your book as you have to not-write what they demand. Readers do not need every book to be what they want.  Writers do not need every reader.  Peaceful coexistence would be ideal.

Tags: the writing life
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