One of the things that always strikes me when talking to writers groups is the Rodney Dangerfield-ism of “I don’t get no respect.” The unpublished feel dissed by the published. E-writers feel dissed by print. Those in the romance genre think they’re looked down on by women’s fiction. Mystery authors argue they get eclipsed by romance. YA complain they’re not taken seriously. And picture book creators whine that some people act like they aren’t writers at all. Non-fiction yeomen and literary geniuses both rail against the masses who prefer to spend their book dollars on lesser lights. Even screenwriters, with their high pay and glamorous life, sigh that people see them as lesser, because what they do is not a book.
The writer, laboring in obscurity and disrespect, is almost a cultural stereotype. And all of us, at least on a bad day or two, have wallowed in it.
I consider myself an extremely lucky person. I grew up in fairly straightened working class circumstances, but I had an advantage that money can’t buy. I had a father who believed in me. He thought that I was brilliant and funny, hardworking and cute. I recall childhood afternoons sitting with him on the front steps. He would still be dressed in his grease-covered khakis, his hardhat “airing out” on the grass. He’d ask my opinion on politics, religion, history, hunting dogs or the neighbors. And he listened to my answers with the same attention and respect the he would have afforded any other human on the planet.
Of course, school and life quickly taught me that I was not particularly brilliant, funny, hardworking or cute. And the other folks on this planet occasionally treat me with a general lack of respect based on who I am, what I do, where I live or how much money I make.
This truth does not make me sigh at the unrealistic expectations that my father instilled in me. Because his lesson was not meant as an introduction to the big world. It was his method of teaching me how to respect myself, to have confidence in my own thoughts and abilities, and to inoculate me from the habit of measuring my accomplishments with other people’s yardsticks.
Authorship is a very competitive vocation. We have contests upon contests, trophies, medals, pendants and certificates. Every reader in the world is urged to publicly judge us, one to five stars. And those elements of the writing life don’t even touch the financial market realities of ever increasing reading options and chasing limited book buying dollars.
Like most in the entertainment business, you’re only as good as your last work. And the term “good” isn’t limited to the quality of the writing. Bad cover, bad reviews, bad luck and bad weather can all contribute to the lackluster performance of a novel. Any hiccup in an upward trajectory and a hundred talented people are scrambling to step into place. Even those at the very top have no place to go but down.
Is it any wonder that we are insecure?
The quote from Eleanor Roosevelt–“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”–is a true one. But sometimes it’s hard for us to get our heads around it. We write something and immediately we ask someone nearby to read it.
“What do you think?”
There is, inherently, in the nature of criticism the task to find fault. It shows that the reader is paying attention, has discriminate tastes and is not afraid to tell you to your face that they don’t like something.
I really hate that.
But I digress from my point, which is, Does it really matter what someone else thinks?
I believe in the snowflake theory. Every writer comes to his or her work with a specific set of skills and strengths. They also bring their own unique perspective and life experience. For these reasons, it is rare that two writers will produce the same work, even if they are trying.
This fact was aptly demonstrated last year in a small historical anthology called It Happened One Season. Veteran authors, Balogh, Laurens, D’Alessandro and Hern were given exactly the same characters and premise for a novella. Without any coordination, each tale was different in tone, style, storyline and theme.
I mention this because I think it is vitally important to all of us to remember that our work, what we write, cannot now, nor ever, be written by somebody else. Our vision cannot be duplicated.
But what if our vision is one that no one has an interest in reading? What if my story sits on the self or in the cloud, only stirring the meager interest of a few supportive family members?
Ah yes, there is the rub.
We all want to be loved. To paraphrase Harry Truman, “then get a dog.”
And we all want to make a living, which has never been easy. I do believe that there is more opportunity in publishing venues, as least on some level, than there has been for a long while.
Adoring fans are wonderful. And the gleam of bright lights makes us feel even more fascinating than we are. However, making big money, small money, or any money changes nothing when it comes to respect. If you’re expecting commercial success to increase anything but your financial worth, you will be disappointed. People love to hate writers who make money. Just the fact that you’re making it runs counter to the sufferer stereotype, and guarantees that your work will be dismissed as unworthy and you will be almost universally proclaimed as a talentless hack.
Can’t you just give me my happily-ever-after?
Being a writer is such an unlikely privilege that whether we’re doing it in a Paris garret, a mini-mansion, or a mobile home, we should be incredibly proud. So many people want to be us. Even WE want to be us.
The buying and selling and bestselling, that’s all craziness that we can’t control. What we do have some say in is the quality of our own work and our own respect for the task that we do.
Or as my daddy once said in cautioning about the local hometown swains, “If you don’t respect yourself, none of those numbskulls are going to do it for you.”
I am so happy to be here among the members of the RWA-WF. I want our chapter to be one that oozes mutual respect. That we will be courageous and diligent and supportive of one another. And that we will write the books that we were meant to write. I believe that begins by taking the trouble to respect ourselves.