Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Why do people loathe the way writers whinge?

You're let's say, a shop assistant, or a taxi driver, or a farmer, or a bank teller, or a brain surgeon. You whinge about the poor pay, or the rude customers, or the long working day, or the dullness, or the stress - or all of the above.

Do those who hear/read what you have to say then berate you strongly for daring to whinge? You have no right to whinge! You are lucky! If you don't like it, don't do it!

Ok, so maybe nowadays with this economic climate, anyone who has a job is both privileged and lucky - but I don't want to go there. Let's stick to my point, which is:
Why is it considered a privilege to be a writer - and therefore not something you have a right to complain about? (Conversely, why is it not a privilege to be a farmer or a pharmacist?)

About writers one hears things like: You have been given a gift, how dare you then complain! You have no nagging boss, no set working hours, no travel time, you can dress how you please - and you dare to complain? You are paid for a talent other people would die to have! (Why is it assumed that if you write you were given that talent rather than had to learn and work at it for years until finally, finally, you produced something of value?)

Why am I ranting?

Because I read the comments section here, after a Guardian article where a number of writers talked about writing. (Thanks to Bibliobibuli for the heads up; she is a wonderful fund of info about things writerly.) What the writers have to say is interesting. Most of the comments are intelligent and interesting too.

And here are some of the others:

"If you don't enjoy writing, spare the rest of us, and don't bloody do it."

"It amazes me how ungrateful these g*ts are for their incredible good fortune - makes me want to smack most of them! I work a 50 hour week in a demanding job, am raising kids and trying to keep up with all the other bits and pieces of my life, and I still make time to write because it's such a joy. I should be so lucky to get paid for it too."

"Thousands losing their jobs each week, countless more loathing whatever job they're clinging on to, bosses breathing down their neck, sales targets to hit, pitiful commissions to earn....This piece is a wind-up, right ? Not very funny, guys. Get yerselves a proper job."

"You're a writer who doesn't like writing? Go and work in a petrol station then. Twits."

"...come across as terrible whingers considering they've been given this great gift."

"...all you writers having to slave over your novels, if you're not enjoying it, really, don't do it.
I don't think any decent books have come out of any of these whiners so there really is no need."

Writers have just as much right to whinge as anybody else. Despise whingeing, per se, if you must, but don't single out writers for doing it and imply they shouldn't because they are writers.

Believe me, writing fulltime and professionally is just like any other job in many ways - you have to do it whether you feel like it or not, and it has the added difficulty that you only find in jobs that emphasize creativity: you have to produce certain emotions in others even when you are not feeling like that at all. Your beloved dog just died, your older kids have the flu, the baby has colic, your mortgage payment is behind, your partner is talking divorce and you just crashed the car and broke a finger - too bad. You still have to write that comedy love scene anyway.

Love it, hate it, sure I can't do it, yeah all of those. Would I do anything else? Nope.

8 comments:

karenmiller said...

Of course we have the right to whinge. But whinging in public is asking for trouble. Writers, like actors, are imbued with a veneer of glamour. Very few people dream of becoming plumbers. But writers? Many people dream of being published. Most won't be. So to hear those folk, like thee and me, who were able to grab hold of the brass ring, when so many can't, well, it's salt in the wound.

Yeah, sometimes writing sucks as a job. All jobs sometimes suck as jobs. But whinging in public is pretty unappealing, regardless of what you're whinging about. Even moreso when you really, you're one of the fortunate few.

Cat Sparks said...

because writing professionally is about being paid to tell people what you think & nobody gives a toss about what most people in *ordinary* jobs think

Jo said...

As a reader, not a writer, I am 100% behind you all - from everything I have been reading over the last 18 months or so, I wouldn't have your jobs, no matter what. I always thought I would like to be a writer, I know now that it is very hard work, very demanding, and bugger if you have a cold, a migraine, or a major problem in your life, you still have to get on with it. As for no boss, what about those editors and publishers breathing down your necks for the next novel. I don't envy you your jobs, and as far as I am concerned, whinge away.

Whinge isn't used much over this side of the world, although it is in the UK. Wonder why we haven't caught it over here?

Amy Sisson said...

I agree with Karen about the slight veneer of glamour that covers writers.

Also, I think that those who despise writer-whinging see it differently than other-whinging because they know that fiction writers do not write because that's their only choice for putting dinner on the table. In other words, there probably aren't any or many fiction writers out there who are writing fiction as a day job because they can't break into their dream job of being a waiter or a secretary or a computer programmer. Nobody gets "stuck" writing fiction by accident, so by default all fiction writers have their dream job, and others resent hearing them complain the same way I get impatient with hearing how hard Britney Spears' life is.

(All that said, I don't disagree with your post -- I just think this is the "why" of it.)

Anonymous said...

Writing is one of the most misunderstood professions, in my opinion, and therein is the problem. Your average individual assumes two things: that writers are all wealthy, and that writing, if you can do it, is easy.

The former is because they see and hear news reports of some new writer who's just burst onto the scene and was offered a six-figure contract for their first book. They hear stories of how wealthy JK Rowling is, and assume that's the norm. If you've published a book, you're rich.

During the writer's strike a year ago, I read a rather vicious comment posted by a reader in an entertainment magazine, essentially to the effect of 'Hollywood writers all live in million dollar mansions and drive expensive cars. They don't know what life is like for the average individual, and do not, under any circumstances, have a right to strike.' There was no room in that person's world for scriptwriters who work three jobs while writing.

And a lot of people assume the same is true for novelists.

And then there's the assumption that writing is easy for those with the talent. If you can write, it's easy for you.

So there you are, doing an 'easy' job and getting paid millions for it...how dare you complain?

Even wannabee writers fall into the trap: You've achieved their dream, and now you complain about it?

It's frustrating, and terribly unfair, but I'm not sure there's a way of addressing it. I once tried to tell someone -- not a writer -- what the average first sale figures tend to be for a genre fiction novel coming out of New York, and was told I was dead wrong. (I was referring to an anonymous survey of recent first-time authors I'd just seen.)

Peter said...

If anyone believes a writer's trade is all peaches and cream, then please read this blog entry by American author Patrick Rothfuss (The Name of the Wind).


http://www.patrickrothfuss.com/blog/blog.html

glenda larke said...

Karen: When I read the original guardian article, the writers concerned did not actually come across as whingeing to me - they just sounded honest. They said, look, this is how it is for me...

One commentator actually said, yes it's time people got real about writing and what's it really like and thanks for telling us.

Cat: hey, you mean people care what I think? *g*

Jo: whinge is great word. It sounds exactly like that it is - a whining complaining sort of sound...

Amy - that's an excellent point. No one gets stuck in writing fiction by accident. Spot on, and I had failed to look at it that way. YOu are absolutely right.

Anon: Oh, how I wish I had a nice income from writing. I do not earn as much as someone flipping burgers in the US, and for me there are no perks like medical benefits, I can't claim tax benefits on any of my necessary tools or trips to conventions or anything at all. I get whacked with enormous taxes in UK or France as a consequence.

Mind you, I still look on myself as being lucky - I have medical benefits through my husband, I have other part time income, and my husband has a pension, so we survive. I travel to see my kids because they chip in, I even get to the occasional convention!

How we can show the general public that we are not all earning Rowlings income? As you say: I dunno.

I took part in one of those surveys on the first book income - the average was US5,000 advance. some went on to make more, others didn't not earn out.

I guess one of the ways we are lucky is that it is often possible to supplement the income - by teaching creative writing, for example, or doing jobbing work writing brochures or handbooks or something...

Peter - Pat does a very good job of showing how tough it can be to create under pressure. I sympathise...

karenmiller said...

Oh, I'm not saying many of the comments recorded aren't accurate.I think they are. But like it or not, I don't think the public really cares about how tough we've got it. There may well be terrible misconceptions about what the writing life is like for writers who aren't Rowling or Meyers or King or Cornwell, but I'm not convinced it does us any good to talk about it publicly because it comes across as whinging. Fair or not, writers are seen as a privileged group. And when privileged people (or people who are perceived as privileged) start complaining about how tough they've got it, well -- you don't make many friends.

Fair? No. Human nature? You betcha.