We’ve all got those things that people do or say that really annoys us, but we just grin and bear it. And when it comes to writing, all writers have their specific peeves. Here are some of mine.
I typically try to stay positive on this blog, but sometimes a change of pace is nice. I don’t mean to mock anybody, but these are the things that I’ve heard many times that have bothered me. Most people aren’t being intentionally rude when they say these things, but their remarks come across not how they probably intend.
Oh, You’re a Writer? I Write Too!
If you are somebody who seriously writes, then there’s nothing wrong with also claiming the title of writer (I’m not gatekeeping). Even somebody who writes as a hobby (who I would still call a writer) can say this without belittling writers. My problem is when people say they have an idea for a story or that they sometimes leisurely write and they assume this is comparable to being a serious writer.
First of all, having an idea for a story doesn’t make you a writer: Writes write—you have to write to be a writer. Second, leisurely writing is totally different than writing seriously. Don’t get me wrong, there are enjoyable parts of writing. I love writing, and so do many, many others. That’s one reason why people choose to write for a profession. But writing is also hard. Anybody who has completed a first draft of their project, anybody who has revised their writing, anybody who has published knows that writing is hard work. Just like many other jobs, writers enjoy aspects of their job, but at the end of the day, we still have to put in the hours and work.
What’s Your Story About?
If I want to tell somebody what my story is about, I will tell them. Talking about my story or characters while they’re still in draft form makes me squirm. Maybe this is just me, but it feels like such a personal thing to reveal. It opens up my unfinished, not-fully-realized idea to criticism. By all means I want feedback on my writing, but only when I ask for it. It’s like judging an artwork when it’s still only an incomplete sketch with stray marks and perspective lines.
Writing can be very personal—even fiction. And in unfinished form, the story pieces expose more about my own psyche as I’m trying to work with the story than I’m comfortable telling people. There’s always the risk of somebody’s misinterpreting what I’m writing about. Writing is personal, but incomplete stories are not a tool for psychoanalysis.
Even writers ask this question of each other. I was at a writing workshop/conference once where the question on everybody’s lips was “What’s your story about?” It felt like a competition, everybody trying to compare or get some sort of edge over each other. Super toxic.
Speculative Fiction is Low-Quality
Once upon a time, I had no idea that speculative fiction and, more broadly, so-called genre fiction or popular fiction was looked down upon. I had some idea of classic literature snobbery, but honestly, I haven’t run into any classic literature snobs. I have run into literary snobs (those who hold so-called literary writing above all else).
It blew me away that speculative fiction was considered a lower form of writing. What about all the classics that are speculative? Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Divine Comedy, Frankenstein, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, The Iliad, The Odyssey. All of these have elements of speculative fiction. Fortunately, the stigma around speculative fiction seems to be easing.
But hearing that the writing I liked, the types of stories that captivated my attention growing up were low quality felt like a dig at my personal taste. And I can’t be the only writer who has been discouraged or felt belittled by these types of remarks.
Don’t Study English (or Writing)
I had somebody say this to my face once. I don’t think they knew that I had every intention of being a writer. But there are a surprising number of things one can do with an English or writing degree.
Maybe you can make the argument that higher education is on the decline right now. Or that there are better ways to learn how to write. I’ve heard the argument that you shouldn’t get an MFA if you have to go into debt for it. These are all different conversations.
But don’t step on somebody’s dreams. Be realistic with people. Creative writing isn’t the most stable career. It’s a lot of work. There’s an element of chance and luck. Don’t quit your day job yet. But your day job can still be writing (professional writing, editing, &c.). At the end of the day, somebody who really loves writing will put in the work. In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott points out that you can’t write solely to be published. Your first motive in writing has to be because you enjoy writing. While I wouldn’t perhaps take it this far, I will say that if your only motive to write is to be published as a big-name author, then you should consider a career change.
What have you been told as a writer? Has anybody said any of these things to you?