Saturday, April 25, 2009

Who in the name of sanity would be a writer


One of the paradoxes of our time is that the world is full of people who want to be fiction authors but fewer and fewer people want to read stories. Jim Baen always used to point out that he worked in a dyeing industry.

To take the first point first, so to speak. What are the motivations of the would-be author? Is it money? We have all read about the vast fortunes paid to JK Rowling and Dan Brown but these people are the literary equivalent of lottery winners. It ain’t going to happen to me, you, or anyone we know anytime soon. I probably earn less than minimum wage for my writing.

Another carrot is the prospect of status. Authors are respected intellectuals, aren’t they? Well no, actually they aren’t. I have lost track of the number of people who look condescendingly on my work. It is not literary so it must be worthless. A chap who writes a novel consisting of the word ‘crap’ tastefully arranged in patterns on each page is an arteeste. The rest of us are hacks. As a BBC producer told me, ‘anyone can write fantasy because it’s easy’. He went on to explain that I should write comedy about three generations of women who live together without men. This was the current fashionable BBC sitcom. It disappeared without trace shortly afterwards. This talentless, Oxbridge, twit (bitter? moi?) went on to reach the very highest levels of the BBC. Who said the Old Boy Network is dead. So my advice is to forget status. You won’t get any as an author. I guess you have heard about the starlet that was so stupid that she slept with the writer.

How about fame? Forget it. Performers become famous for their beauty or style, even occasionally for their wit, but writers – never! Yes, yes, JK Rowling is famous but she won the lottery.

So why do it? The only answer I can give is that I love to tell stories. If I make a few bob as well then that is all to the good but the real kick is when I entertain someone and give them pleasure.

7 comments:

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Very true, John.

The Literary Editor of our newspaper told me she didn't review my fantasy trilogy because people were going to buy it anyway. She had to review the books that people wouldn't buy. ie. literary fiction.

I felt like I was in an episode of Yes Minister. You know the one where they won't give money to the football team because people like foot ball, they'll only support the opera because no one likes it.

Dave Freer said...

I do it for the vitamin c! Lemons keep me from scurvy.

Seriously, the writer who doesn't write to please others is a plonker, who needs the old school network (to go and get ahead and mess up the field for everyone). That said: I've yet to meet an author who doesn't secretly believe/hope against all logic that they'll win the Rowlings lottery. It's been a contention of mine for a long time now that the underlying problems in society stem from a misplacement of status (with the bizarre status = money) and the effect that misplacement has on society's mirror. I feel we're due for some re-adjustment, and a little new austerity might help with that. So maybe you'll get your status after all, John. :-). Me- a rebel I came, and I'm still the same, and I'll go on with my programme of entertaining people and inserting nasty subversive ideas into unsuspecting minds.

Dave Freer said...

Rowena, sometimes I feel 'Yes Minister' was too factual to be satire. Somehow the idea seems to have sunk into zeitgeist of the Ats community that 'value' = too good for the hoi polloi = ie. if most people can't stand (or understand it) it, it must be great.

Ori Pomerantz said...

Dave, could you point to a society that didn't misplace status, or that hasn't done it as badly as we're doing?

Dave Freer said...

That's a good question, Ori, and one which really probably doesn't have much to do with writing - the purpose of this blog. My own feeling is that all societies exhibit a degree of cyclical re-adjustment of the values that society puts onto members various roles. If a society fails to re-adjust to a position where people who actually drive society are relatively high status, the society suffers, and perhaps may fall. Writers, scientists and even artists in general are possibly good 'mine-canary' professions (I am not saying that writers, scientists or artists always deserve status, just that when you have a society that looks up to them, it drives young people toward those professions.

John Lambshead said...

Dear Dave

One of the signs of a society in trouble is that young people aspire to high status (= fame + money) through jackpot jobs, football, perfoming and so on.

In a stable society young people see status as the reward for step by step achievement in business or the professions.

John

Dave Freer said...

Ah, but John, via Enid... er JK whatsiname many people percieve writing as an easy jackpot job. It isn't, of course. But the perception exists.