I don’t wear the fact that I do a lot of writing on my sleeve like I used to. If it comes up I will say that I wrote or that I do some writing, but will only refer to myself as a writer if it is understood that I am (mostly) an amateur. I have in fact been paid for my writing in the past, but never has it amounted to more than minimum wage when the hours put in are accounted for. Besides, I’m more proud of the writing that never made me a dime because it was far more ambitious and time-consuming. So, despite the fact that I’ve written four novels (in varying degrees of editing disrepair), I don’t generally identify myself as a writer.

To the extent that I have referred to myself as a writer, I have never tried to suggest that someone that has had a novel published or has had even moderate success with articles is some sort of equal or colleague. I’m not saying that they’re better than me in any grand scheme, but I think it does them a great disservice to suggest that what I do is the same as what they do when they have dealt with deadlines, professional editors, compromised intellectual properties, and so on. So while I may trade writing techniques or something like that, I don’t suggest that the only difference between the two of us is that we’ve gone different routes. We have, of course, but my route is easy and theirs is at least some degree more challenging.

Lastly, I would never brag that if I really wanted to, of course I could get published. Maybe I could, maybe I couldn’t. The truth is that I have much improvement to do, I’ve never sacrificed what I wanted to write in order to write something more publishable, and there are elements of luck and connections involved.

I mention all of this so that I can segue into a pet peeve of mine. Every now and again I’ll run into a self-described “writer” that earns the quotes around the description due to the technicality that he has never written anything more substantial than an infrequently updated blog or LiveJournal. They frame everything in terms of what they want to do or what they could have done because they have nothing hard that they can point to. To make matters worse, they don’t use their conversation with me, someone that has actually gone through the process, for advice… but rather they are the ones that end up giving advice to me. Don’t get me wrong, I welcome feedback on what I’ve written and ideas on what I’m writing, but I get annoyed when people tell me “You should have this happen and that happen.” I’ll admit, it’s a thin line sometimes, but tone-of-voice makes a difference (as does how well I know the person).

What they end up doing instead is stacking their awesome idea for a novel that they’ve never written and compare it to either what I’ve written or how I describe it. The book I wrote isn’t the book that they’d write, thus they are more talented than I. Occasionally I’ll see a different tactic. The reason that they haven’t written anything is that they’re too good to. My ex-girlfriend Libby used this one. She just talked about how she could really write something great that could get published, but she’s just so much of a perfectionist that she’d hate and couldn’t bear to let anyone see it. At least there is an admission that perhaps it wouldn’t turn out as well as imagined, but it’s still the same “too good” attitude that some amateur writers in regards to why they’ve never tried to get anything published even though what they do is better than the dreck that’s out there. Amateur writers don’t want to be a sell-out to the publishing industry because their work is so important, the non-writer writers that I’m referring to don’t want to sell-out to reality (when it’s obviously their own limitations that they’re afraid of).

It’s actually gotten to the point that one of the reasons I don’t talk all that much about my writing unless it comes up (and even then not even when it comes up sometimes) is not only because I don’t want to set up the pretense that I am something that I am not, but rather because I don’t want to get into a discussion about the writing I do and the writing that they don’t do and the comparative value of each. I don’t want to see the countless hours I’ve spent organizing my ideas and sitting down reduced to an option no more or less valid than choosing to instead eat Cheet-Os and play some GameCube.


Category: Coffeehouse

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One Response to Writers Who Don’t Write

  1. Kirk says:

    Except for the non-fiction writing I’m having to do for my technical-writing classes, I don’t make it known that I write. Saying “I’m a writer” just sounds so damned pretentious that I can’t bring to tell anyone outside the family that I do it. (And actually, most of the time, I don’t even tell them.)

    Interesting thing about the college I go to, is that one can major in creative writing. The major “core” courses are either fiction 1-3, or poetry 1-3. Though I wouldn’t mind taking fiction 1-3 as electives, I’m guessing they’re full of flakes, as those courses never start before 1 pm. (I wouldn’t mind taking afternoon courses, but I have to work from 2-11pm.)

    As one girl in the program told me: “Nobody’s creative juices are flowing in the morning.”

    As George Costanza would say: “Delicate Geniuses.”

    Anyway, I feel for ya, having to listen to all the writer wannabes who think it’s so damn easy. I know it’s not.

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