I tell myself it’s not personal. I tell myself they genuinely want to help, even inspire, other fledgling writers.
But I can’t help it. As a writer, I take it personally when other writers publicly pontificate.
It’s one thing to share with readers your journey to publication and financial success as a writer. It’s another when those take centrestage instead of the process of writing itself.
And worse, when the tone of the writing literally screeches like an arrogant peacock. When the writer talks about what makes a writer, using the same narrow measures of success as this material world’s cold, calculated measures of success, then I find it hard to keep silent.
Well, exactly what has triggered my ire you ask?
Let me tell you.
What are the marks of success? Good grades. Scholarships. High-paying jobs.
Two days ago, I read a guest piece in the local daily’s commentary section, written by a former IT exec who’s now a full-time self-published author.
My first thought was: “Oh a fellow writer. Let’s check out what he’s got to say about his writing journey.”
After all, writing is a lonely job for most writers, including yours truly. So it’s always nice to read about another writer’s experience and to look out for common areas to commiserate.
Unfortunately, the moment I started reading the piece, alarm bells began ringing in my head!
The writer began by talking about his pursuit of success since young.
His very first paragraph encapsulates the very same narrow markers of success society insists should define each of us and our worth and identity: “…getting the best grades and winning scholarships and then securing a high-paying job.”
About to turn the page in disgust, something told me to hold back, not roll my eyes, but to press on. Maybe it’ll get better. Maybe he’ll get to someplace good. After all, it could be a careful setup for what is instead the reality of life and its infinite daily struggles.
Yea, let’s give another fellow writer the benefit of a doubt, shall we? It’s what I wish for myself too if the shoe’s on the other foot. Or, if I may paraphrase more appropriately, the pen’s in the other hand.
As I read on, however, my worse fears were soon realized.
When the going gets tough, throw money at it!
The writer spoke about his transition out of a full-time IT career into writing that started with barely finishing a page of words each weekend.
This is a classic problem for would-be writers everywhere when holding down a non-writing job full-time to help pay the bills, while trying concurrently to write.
And given that he was starting out without much experience, the writing process was unsurprisingly tough.
So far so good I thought. I’m with you bro. For I’ve been there; and if I’m honest, I’m still there now on many a weary writing day!
Then, our good friend goes on to share that after much struggle and thought, he decided to quit his job and focus fully on his writing. This is despite being the sole breadwinner of his nuclear family (a wife and kid).
Kudos again…but wait!
Alas, how quickly “successful writers” forget
Did he share he could do so because he had savings to last the family a few years?
Well, well, I mused. Not exactly the struggling creative now is he?!
Oh and what’s that? He casually whipped out $10,000 from his pocket to pay for cover design, illustrations, proofreading, editing, and audiobook production for his maiden book? Just like that?
And oh did he also mentioned how his non-fiction self-help book was eventually picked up in the US, and even used as course material by a wellness outfit in Mississippi?
Finally, after all that now clearly reads like textbook pontification and unabashed self-marketing and promotion, the writer ends his personal ad of a commentary with this sage advice “for those who are hesitating about pursuing your passion: Remember that life is too short to let it go to waste. Follow your dream, and make it real.”
Excuse me while I roll my eyes and puke!
Writers need to speak the truth
Let’s be clear.
I’m not above the occasional cliche to end a tale. If the shoe fits, why not?
But when it comes to matters close to my heart and blog — autism, parenting, writing and life — I get unreservedly personal when faced with such affronting material as that so-called commentary piece that’s enraged me enough to pen this post.
While I am happy for that writer’s success, when he makes it so public in the country’s top daily (that had the “good sense” to print it) — and write this kind of “rags-to-riches” story, it just smacks of pomposity, entitlement and dark meritocracy.
It blatantly obfuscates the grit and grind that’s the daily reality of every writer.
Of course, I get it. This world we live in loves “inspiring” stories of someone’s climb to success because it gives them hope they can too. Cup half full and all that. Bouquets not brickbats.
I. Totally. Get it.
But as writers, let’s also speak the truth shall we?
For alongside every success story, there are a thousand tragic ones.
Where do those go?
Into hiding that’s where!
Shielding themselves from embarrassment because in this world, nobody loves a “loser”. Better slink away with your tail between your legs and say nothing. Not until, according to that writer, your passionate pursuit of your dream comes true!
Then, shout it out from the rooftops!
Or, in this case, from the sanctimonious ivory tower of the national daily (itself increasingly out of touch with what’s really going on down here).
What a pity.
What a waste of a perfect teachable moment.
We write. Therefore we are writers.
The truth for us writers is this: the grime and gritty details of our daily writing struggles ARE where our lives can truly and authentically be lived. No need to sugarcoat it. Nor does it need to have a happy Disney ending.
We are writers, and we write. Come rain or come shine. Come success or come failure.
We write. And that in itself is enough to define us. And to give us worth and identity. Even if we never become major bookstore paperbacks.
For as American author Gloria Jean Watkins (1952-2021), better known by her pen name bell hooks, once said:
“There are writers who write for fame. And there are writers who write because we need to make sense of the world we live in; writing is a way to clarify, to interpret, to reinvent. We may want our work to be recognized, but that is not the reason we write.
We do not write because we must; we always have a choice.
We write because language is the way we keep a hold on life. With words we experience our deepest understandings of what it means to be intimate.
We communicate to connect, to know community.”
And that sir, is how I choose to “make it real” with each and every one of my weekly blog posts and occasional op-eds..
That is how I am a writer.