…And if not why not?
OK, it’s hardly a new question, and if you do refer to yourself as a writer, what stage were you at before you did, and what were other people’s reactions?I’ve recently decided to think of myself as a trainee-writer instead of a wannabe-writer. Why? Well I suppose it’s just a slight change of mind-set. I have had some limited success in getting paid for short stories. I’ve also had very encouraging feedback (but no deals) from publishers, and pretty much all reviews I’ve ever had seem to think I’m doing more things right than I am wrong, with most people liking the stories. I still know that what I have achieved commercially so far is nothing to write home about and I certainly still wouldn’t dare refer to myself publicly as a ‘writer’ brackets and all!
Now you may think this is all just me contemplating my own navel. But I do have a wider point, and that is about our perceptions of ourselves and of how others view us.
It somehow seems to be thought ‘silly’ or at best a waste of time to want to be a writer by most people. Then there are those who say "who will buy it" and "you will never be as good as…" and then name someone who isn’t necessarily all that brilliant technically, but very successful. People will say this even if they haven’t read a single book by the person they name!
So all this led me to reconsider how I see myself. I’m under no illusions that I am ever going to be a ‘great’ writer. But I have technically improved significantly over the years. And this is the crux of my internal change in status. At this stage I really just want people to read what I’ve written and hopefully like it. I feel much more confident in submitting my work to the world in general, and that is a big hurdle for anyone who wants to write.
My question is, why do people generally assume the ‘big names’ are the standard and are by default ‘very good’ writers, without reading a word. Whilst at the same time practically dismissing anyone starting out as ‘rubbish’ again without reading a single word?
These perceptions do seem to be fairly ingrained with some people when it comes to books, especially fiction novels.
You just don’t get the same prejudice in other fields. I’m a programmer by profession, and you don’t get clients coming up and saying, "I only want the older experienced people who worked on the biggest systems in the past to do my work for me, because all the new ones will be crap." It just doesn’t happen, and would sound ludicrous if someone did. But in the fiction book world it seems to be the ‘normal’ or at least mainstream readers default perception. Of course the marketing machines churning out the same old spin for the same old people and books don’t help it.
Now if I’m sounding bitter, I’m not, and I don’t intend to. I have no illusions about the industry, and if I never make it past this stage, then that’s ok. Maybe I’m just not good enough to go any further. What does get me is the often snobbish attitudes people have to books, combined with a sneering attitude to wannabe writers, even (or sometimes especially) those people who don’t even read!
So where has this attitude come from?