For today I have a nice little anecdote about what it means to be a writer versus wanting to be “writerly.” I’ve been sitting on this story for about nine months because I couldn’t quite figure out in what context I should present it.
Recently there was a thread on the Absolute Write forums that discussed the differences between loving writing and loving the idea of being a writer (I posted a summary of this incident in that thread). This story is the perfect illustration of the differences, I think.
I hope you find the story as amusing as I found the experience baffling.
Sometimes I go to a coffee shop to write. When I’m there I’m working. One day I met another writer there–he went on and on and on and on about writing, made a big show of having his laptop out and his blank word file open and his nice little notebook at his side. I’d say we had a long conversation about writing, but really it was a lot of him gushing about how being writers put us on this “other intellectual level” and me politely nodding.
Of course, he changed his tune a little when I told him I write science fiction. That was so plebian of me. Never mind that many scientists and engineers point to science fiction as their inspiration for entering the field. Oh no, writing about the future was just so passé.
After insulting my chosen genre for a little bit, we moved on to how I approach writing. He really changed his tune when I told him I look at writing as a job, that I approach it in a business manner.
You know what he said after that? “When people start being business minded they forget about families and grandchildren.”
He was of the opinion that people who are professionals are all selfish, greedy, and out to crush the little guy. Talk about stereotyping. And this comment came after a long speech about how being a writer made him more open minded.
I told him I wanted to sell a lot of books to reach a large audience. He said, “But not too many books, right? Like, you don’t want Oprah to endorse your book or anything?”
I fail to see how someone recommending a book and promoting literacy is a bad thing.
Then he went on and on about sustainability. Publishers (not just the Big Six–I’m not even sure he knows there’s a Big Six) were all evil corporations who didn’t care about trees. That’s why he was going to publish his own books by hand, because he cared about the paper and they didn’t (he was still using mass-produced paper, mind you). I was completely confused as to how his use of paper was better than theirs, but he insisted it was. Then he mentioned how he was proud of our library for installing solar panels.
Yeah, those solar panels are great. And guess what? My husband’s business help put them there. If there weren’t people around who were business-minded there wouldn’t be things like solar panels.
He completely failed to see how there wouldn’t even be a coffee shop for him to sit pontificating in if someone somewhere wasn’t being “business minded.” How the business part of sustainable business practices was just as important as the rest.
I asked him if he’d submitted anything. He said no. I asked him what he’d written. He said a (note the singular) book of poems. How long had it taken him? “Years,” he proudly proclaimed.
And those are just some of the highlights. This conversation was weird, believe me.
Eventually I had to stop him (after he asked me if I was worried Duotrope might steal my copyright I just couldn’t take it anymore) and politely informed him that I only had another hour and I really had to get my word count in. He grudgingly left me alone, and when I left the shop he had a game open next to his blank page.
In the two hours I was there I wrote 2,000 words. He wrote zero.
I’m biased, but which of us do you think enjoys writing and which enjoys the idea of being writerly?
Writers write. Writers who want to be read research the industry and copyright law. They understand professionalism. Real writers are essentially the opposite of this man.
And I’m still trying to decided if this guy was crazier than the dentist who told me there was a government conspiracy to hide a twelfth planet in our solar system with intelligent life on it (yeah, I know, if you count poor Pluto we’re still missing ten and eleven–not sure what happened to those). But that’s another story.
Truth is stranger than fiction.
P.S. He also wanted to move out of the country and into a big city because he heard it was a “green city.” Hu? A green city is an oxymoron, man. I’m all for practices that protect our environment, and I assure you moving into a big industrial center is not one of them.