Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Superiority Complex

I have to admit that being a writer sometimes makes me feel superior to other people. I'm going to stress 'sometimes' here, and if there are any other writers in the room, then that tends to drop to 'never'. I guess it's based on the idea that the time I spend trying to drag the right word from my subconscious is somehow a valid and noble enterprise. I'd like to think that when I'm sitting there on the train with my notepad, I'm doing something a lot more constructive than the guy sitting two rows away who's always playing World of Warcraft on his laptop.

But is writing any different to knitting, or doing crosswords or updating your Facebook status thirty times a day? Heaven knows, there are enough bad writers in the world to fill up the internet a thousand times over. In fact, here I am adding to the word landfill right now. But nonetheless, there's a definite appeal to being a writer, a perceived status that the word confers upon us. Even better than this is the term 'author', which I've promised myself I won't use until I finally get my name on the front of a book!

Then again, people who are attracted to being published for the kudos alone, tend to be keen to minimise the actual 'work' part of the equation and move as swiftly as possible to the million pound advance, launch party and book-signing aspects. How else can you explain that the very first session to sell out at the forthcoming Oxford Literary Festival was a creative writing workshop entitled "Turning your life into stories"? This ignores the fact that advances are dropping like a stone, lots of authors have to contribute towards their own launch party and that even established authors get to sit forlornly at their own signings, mentally trying to pull punters into their circle of influence. This is not a life of glamour!

I'm sure that no-one would deny that writing well is hard. Like, both mentally and emotionally challenging, filled with self-doubt and subjective opinion. And I hate that part of it, because it's so damned difficult that all of the fun seems to drain out of the activity. But that difficulty is also its saving grace, because what comes out the other side is beautiful. Not perfect. Not timeless. But somehow lovely. And that's something that World of Warcraft guy can never touch.

Nick.

8 comments:

  1. Interesting! I find I feel humble rather than superior. I'm always thankful for my ability to write, and write well and that I see the world in a more enlightened way. It pains me when I see people crippled with such self doubt and pessimissim. Maybe even more so, since once upon a time, I too saw the world through black glasses!
    Best, Karen.

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  2. Hey, if you're looking for pessimism and self-doubt, you've come to the right person!

    It's worth adding that even if I have sometimes dabbled with the sin of pride, it's always inside my own head - I almost never tell anyone that I'm a writer. Not sure what a therapist would make of that...

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  3. I'm always a little embarrassed - it's my guilty secret. I don't think that'll go away until I have a publisher on my team....it's why I like hanging out with writers I think, I don't need to explain myself, they know. Superior? LOL, at what? Getting rejection letters? ( Talking of myself here of course....)

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  4. I'm so with Kathryn on this. Now I write full time I cringe slightly when people ask me what I do. What do I say? I'm a writer. Or I'm a housewife. Ugh! And if I do say writer, there's always that pause, followed by, 'What do you write?' It's a little bit better now that I have a couple of short stories published and sometimes I just hide behind all the book reviews I write. But boy, do I yearn for that agent/publisher thingy. Maybe then I'll be able to hold my head up.

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  5. I guess I feel lucky. I get to spend a few hours a day dreaming things up in my head. What could be more fun than that? And what would I do without it?

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  6. I agree with all of you! Does that make me terminally confused or indecisive? What gets me is the fact that since I got into Undiscovered Voices everyone I know is telling me it's time they got their book written... This, I have to admit, leaves me feeling a little insulted - as if it's not my talent and hard work that got me in at all - anyone could do it. Only they didn't did they? I should be glad to have inspired them but instead I feel underappreciated. What a sulky little princess I am!

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  7. Thanks Yona (dovewisewords), this was the kind of point I was trying to make in my clumsy way. There is a huge gulf between saying and doing, and I think we deserve some credit for what we're all achieving.

    Unfortunately, the publishing industry seems to be structured as ascending levels of rejection - first from agents, then publishers and finally from readers and the marketplace. It's no wonder it makes us neurotic!

    Nick.

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  8. I think that writing is a superior activity to playing computer games, knitting etc. It makes you really think about the world, about people, about issues - it makes you lead a thoughtful life and takes you far deeper than many people ever go. However, I think this has to be a reward in itself, and does not necessarily result in publication. Disappointingly, if you mention to a non-writer that you write, they do not appreciate the depth/interest/creative thing - all they want to know is when the book is going to be published. All this means that I also hesitate to mention to new acquaintances that I'm a writer, as their reaction to the not published thing can make me feel like a failure. We writers have to protect our fragile egos. That's why, as Kathy says, is so nice to be able to talk about writing with fellow writers, who've been there and know the deal; who understand just how many years of work are necessary before you can write something of a publishable standard. And even then there are no guarantees.

    The art/skill of writing well is under-appreciated - but I always come back to the fact that it is the most interesting, enjoyable and satisfying thing I can find to do.

    Beverley

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