When I decided I wanted to be a writer, I did not have lofty goals such as winning awards or being respected among my peers. I had dreams of creating stories that made people feel the way I felt when I read my favorite authors. I did not see myself in a plush library sitting by a roaring fire with a hound at my feet surrounded by shelves of dusty first editions sipping brandy and discussing the intricacies of “The Crying of Lot 49.” Reading and writing to me are interactive, and while it would be super cool to have my work analyzed by future generations in college pop culture classes, I really just want to write stories that creep people out.
On a writing site I frequent, there seems to be two classes of people – writers and “people who write literature.” Within these two main classes are of course sub classes but let’s just rant about these two for now: Writers and “People Who Write Literature.”
Writers are people who write because they like to emulate (not copy) what they’ve read, both in fantasy and reality. Writers live in their heads a lot because the stories in there are so much more interesting. Writers will look at a story they like (or don’t) and immediately start thinking that if it had been written another way, how it would play out. Every once in a while, those ideas make it to paper and before long, a story is born. Writers play with words and phrases and come up with clever names and fantastic worlds. Writers put to paper these phrases and names and worlds, and come up with lives and tales that they enjoy so much and maybe others might enjoy them too. JM Barrie wrote for unhappy children, Dickens wrote as social commentary. Think of all the tales you remember from childhood – the Grimms, Mother Goose, Disney, London. Bronte – someone, or a group of someones came up with that fantastic tale, and chances are that some of your greatest adventures (real or imagined) were inspired by writers. Writers turn your mundane reality into fantasy for a little while, taking you to places you’d like to visit, turning you into people you dream of being, filling you with emotions you may never want to experience again.
(Guess which category I associate myself with. *grin*).
“People Who Write Literature” are wholly schizophrenic academics, vacillating wildly between writing from the soul and structured prose. They are the verbal equivalent of the visual version of an “artiste” who flicks a few splatters on a canvas and proclaims (usually in a tortured German accent – in fact, this artist sounds lot like Fritz the Goldfish) that it represents man’s struggle to be obscure in a sea of nothingness (here, he flicks his cigarette ash into someone’s drink and stares sullenly at the floor because no one understands him). They give the impression that only well-read and intelligent people *get* their work, and those that only see a few splatters of paint on a canvas are uncultured and undeserving. So long as they have the approval of their peers (and honestly, isn’t that just commercial writing on a non-paying scale) they can sit on their pedestals and flick cigarette ash at people. “People who write literature” toss around terms like “commercial writing” and look down on anyone who would do it for a living.
When King won the National Book Award a few years back he was in the company of a woman who paced herself and wrote one novel in twenty years. King was poo-pooed by “literary people” because he is a “commercial writer” and during his speech, he reminded them of why people like him keep people like them in business. Without those of us who write for the unwashed masses, the literary elite wouldn’t have enough people buying their books to keep ink on the table, much less crack a living at it.
The idea that commercial writing is junk writing is something that I’m starting to see not only as elitism talking, but a wee bit of jealousy, and I’m not just saying that because I have a few credits to my name (because that would be petty and unlike me). It is easier to tell a successful writer that they are pandering to the lowest common denominator than to admit that writing over people’s heads can’t pay the bills, or worse, that what they write just isn’t interesting.
“Commercial writing” is something that is marketable and appeals to a mass of people, whether this is an article in the Ladies Home Journal or a four-page comic in Weird Tales. Commercial writing is anything that can be sold. Most writers write for an audience greater than themselves, though outwardly they will tell people that they only write for themselves – saying you do it for the money is kinda tacky, even though deep down in our secret hearts it’s a goal.
It was my Grandmother who told me I should become a writer because I was good at it. I valued her opinion over my mother’s because my Grandmother and I have a rocky relationship, and for her to say that must makes it the God’s honest truth. It took many moons before I developed a style that was my own, and when I found a rhythm, everything clicked. I do not write believing that “the right people” will get it. The right person is anyone who enjoys my work and is willing to recommend me. I may not be every’s cup of tea, but genre should never be synonymous with “elitist”.
Do not misunderstand me – I write a lot for myself. Someone asked me the other day how many stories I have, and the number is over one-hundred (I’ve just sent PJ into fits), but only ten percent of them are ready for publication (and now she’s getting into her car to drive five hours to my house to rummage through my files). The vast majority of what I have is snippets, vignettes, snatches of stolen dialogue. I have a running piece in my head that is so derivative of a scene from The Craft, I’m nearly embarrassed to admit it – but I like the way my version of the scene plays. That scene has power, and if it’s written properly, I don’t think people would mind. One day I may commit it to paper. I have a scene from a bank robbery, the hold up of a convenience store, and the chance meeting of lovers in a triangle that (unbeknownst to them) actually involves a very dangerous fourth, a shrine and a fingertip. Urban legends, baby factories, and an explanation of television antennae in a world of cable television all sit on my harddrive, like little seeds waiting to be planted. I have notebooks and napkins and computer files full of writing that is just for me, silly stuff that may never see the light of day. And then I have the stuff that’s for everyone else, and this is stuff that I would actually pay to read.
I was just told this morning that if it wasn’t for “People Who Write Literature”, specifically the poster said (and I quote) “.i have no problem with this, and i wish that commercial writers — not you, necessarily, but more people like (edited) — understood that the only reason they can write in their cute little styles is because people like me took the first risks.”
How nice, eh? Not me necessarily, but yeah — you know: me.
(this doesn’t have a proper ending, and I’m tired of waiting for my brain to come up with one)