Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Stop Writing. Bow Part Deux

Stop Writing. Now, a recent blog I wrote a couple of days ago, seriously upset some folks.

Five blogger friends thought I was writing about them specifically (perhaps some small ego issue here) and one took it very personally. All six were wrong. I don’t criticize friends’ stuff online for the world to see. That’s why I’m member of a few writers’ groups, where critiquing each other’s works is the order of the day. Stop Writing. Now was meant to comment generically on the fact that some of the stuff I force myself to read online really has little redeeming value, at least to me. The blog was all about realizing we live in a very odd age that begs the question: Can we claim to be what we want to be?

For example, are you black because you say you’re black? Are you a woman because it feels right to be a woman? And are you a writer because for some reason you think being a writer is neat and will put you in the company of people you’d like to emulate? You read Hemingway or George Sand (a woman, I might add, despite her name) and thought, Hmmm, I could do that…

The first question refers of course to the issues brought up by Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who decided she wanted to be black and rose to become the director of the Spokane, Washington, chapter of the NAACP. Ms. Dolezal darkened her skin, Afroed her hair and, everyone seems to agree, in spite of the racial muddle, did a bang-up job of leading the anti-racism organization. The second query addresses the recently femaled Caytlin Jenner, formerly known as Bruce, an Olympic decathlete gold medalist. And the writing question? That one, I’m unsure of. Does firing up Word on a computer, typing a few pages, and posting them online make you a writer?

I’m nowhere near objective on this subject.  I’ve been a writer most of my life, and the title is important to me. I’ve earned a living at it—badly—for a while now, and. I think, paid the necessary dues. I believe writing is very hard work, often thankless, quickly forgotten and damned poorly remunerated.

In other disciplines, associations bestow membership to people who’ve studied, paid money, and follow certain rules. A doctor or lawyer or accountant has to pass state exams to be certified and cannot practice without a license. In other professions—and certainly in the arts, with the possible exception of architecture—anything goes. I recently had a literary agent whose professionalism I took for granted because he belonged to a small, boutique literary agency. He vanished, taking three of my books with him. While I’m certain having my works will not help establish him in the agent profession, I remain pretty ticked off. This man claimed to be something he wasn’t…

My thought is that writers should be working at getting published, paid and read. Someone who daily makes entries into a diary no one will read is not really a writer. He or she might be a chronicler of daily life, but unless there’s a courage and willingness to display one’s work, it’s finger-painting, and a finger-painting child is not a painter, despite what the parents might think.

The secondary issue is, are you any good? With self-publishing taking over the world, hundreds of thousands of books that should never see the light of day are being published, and by sheer weight and numbers, obscuring some of the good stuff that does deserve readership. The same is true of blogs. Is your blog worth reading? Does it move people? Does it make them think, question, re-evaluate? Does it inspire once in a while? Or are you simply taking up a chunk of cyberspace simply because everyone else is doing it, and you can too?

I’ve always liked the modern saying that wearing Spandex is a privilege; it’s not a right.  

I feel much the same way about writing.

My good friend David sent me an appropriate quote this morning: “If you don't like someone's story, write your own.” That’s from the celebrated Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe.

Achebe might also have added, “But if it’s not any good, don’t expect me to read it.”

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