I’ve been hanging out a lot lately in the NaNoWriMo official forums (well, more than usual, that is), and in the Coffee House section, I found this lovely thread: #thingsnevertosaytoawriter. And I was surprised at how many of those things I already heard at some point, whether I was aware of that or not (yes, I can be a bit thick when it comes to subtle undertones. So what?). Some of those aren’t that bad and can be easily dismissed, but if you are even a tiny bit like me, a few of the things mentioned there can get straight to your heart – even if the person you’re talking to doesn’t intend them to. I know many people out there who have to deal with writers like me don’t really understand how important our writing is to us, and how much it hurts when they diminish it, even unintentionally. I’d just like to shed some light on what you should really never, ever say to a writer if you don’t truly want to hurt them.
5. “You are too young to write, you just don’t have the experience.”
I see where those people are coming from, I really do. We gather experiences as we grow up, get older, explore the world, live our life. But this statement basically denies young writers the ability to write anything because they don’t know anything at all. Let me tell you, this is bullshit. I know, I know, one rule of writing is supposed to be “Write what you know”. Seriously, if you try to convince me that’s true, you can stick this rule up your ass. I never backpacked across Europe, but why would that mean I can’t write a character who does precisely that? I don’t have a huge social circle, but some of my characters have. I never had any kind of serious, committed relationship, yet I write romance into a lot of my stories. Because hey, guess what, I have this thing called empathy! I can watch other people, I can talk to them, learn about all those things through them. I may be young, I may lack certain experiences (well, you can say “lack”, I wouldn’t say I’m “lacking” anything), but I sure as hell can write about them. Being young doesn’t mean I’m an empty shell. That’s not what I am now, and that’s not what I was at fifteen. I always had something to say, and I would always write about it. There is no such thing as “being too young to write”.
4. “You are writing a novel? Well, I would do that, but I have more important things to do.”
Please imagine that line delivered in a tone that says “Oh, she is so proud of herself, but does she even realise that everyone could do that?” You did that? Good. Now please proceed to imagining me kicking you in the testicles. Yes, even if you’re a woman. Go on, imagine what it’s like. Embrace the pain… Got that? Feel it? …yes, that’s about how I feel whenever I hear that line. Oddly enough, it mostly comes from people who never even wrote a poem, let alone a whole novel. They have absolutely no idea how hard that is. They don’t know how much pain and suffering we willingly take upon us just to be able to finally type “The end.” under a finished manuscript. We have every goddamn reason in the world to be proud of ourselves! Do the people who think that way walk up to the guys who constructed the LHC and tell them they could have done that, they just had better things to do? No? Didn’t think so. So why do they feel the need to let us know that what we do is nothing special? Do they have so little to be proud of themselves that they have to grasp every opportunity to mock other people’s accomplishments? Sometimes I think I should pity those people, but really, they irritate me so much, I just can’t…
3. “Oh, you write [insert any genre literature here]? Why don’t you try to write real fiction some day?”
I got a lot of this during my three years as a creative writing student. While no-one ever said this exact line in my face, a few people came close, and I even overheard some people talking about genre lit that way when they didn’t know I was writing this kind of literature. Basically, everything that wasn’t lit fic didn’t count as “real” literature. Some people there were understanding, they never mocked me for writing fantasy, sci-fi and horror, even though they were lit fic writers themselves (Thomas, I know you probably won’t read this, but thanks for trying. Even if you didn’t tutor me, at least you were always honest with me). Most of my fellow students (and, sadly, the professors as well) got that look when I mentioned that I’m a genre writer. I got sick of it pretty quickly. Who the fuck says that genre literature isn’t “real” literature?! I bet your parents read you fairy tales when you were little – and you didn’t dismiss those as “not real literature”. I know for a fact that some of you read books like Harry Potter and Twilight, but you never had the spine to admit that. If someone found out, you claimed it to be for research, out of curiosity or, if so much, a guilty pleasure. Would it be so bad if someone knew you actually had a thing for Harry when you were younger? Or that you found Bella’s and Edward’s dysfunctional relationship amusing? But no, in that case, you’d have to rethink your definition of “real literature” again, and there’s no way this will happen. Well, fuck you. There is a goddamn reason why people write fantasy: Other people read it, they like it, they want more of it! And those people don’t think what they’re reading isn’t literature just because it has dragons. Or Aliens. Or tiny robots in a haunted house. We put every bit as much work into our works as any lit fic writer. It’s not easy to write an epic fantasy novel, or a good horror story, or compelling steampunk novels. We deserve as much respect as writers as your cherished “real” authors do. So the next time someone tries to tell me what I’m writing is crap just because I write about magic, I will mentally roll a die. And if you’re lucky, I won’t break your nose. So think twice before you insult any of us genre writers again.
2. “Your novel is finished? Cool, when do you publish it?”
Well, how about never? I do want to be a published writer some day, but there are things I write just for the fun of it, without any intention to publish them properly. Maybe I’ll put them on FictionPress some day, but that’s it. Is it really so hard to understand that even I have stuff I just write because I want to? That not every word I write will end up in a book? Some people play video games, others paint, cook, play the piano, whatever. They call it a hobby. My hobby happens to be what I wanna do professionally some day, but that doesn’t mean I need to let you read everything I write. I write because I need to, because I want to tell stories, because I have something to say. Writing always comes first. Everything else comes after. If you can’t accept that, go talk to someone else.
1. “You want to be a professional author? Why don’t you get a real job first and write on the side?”
This is the one that hurts me most. The worst thing about it is that it often comes from people who genuinely care about me and want me to be safe and happy. And they don’t even know what they are doing to me when they say things like that. Everyone has dreams. My dream happens to be one of the more unrealistic ones, but so what? It is still a dream I intend to pursue. I want to be a writer. I’m a person who needs time, who needs peace to write; I find it difficult to write when I come home dead tired after eight hours of work. So my goal is to one day be able to get by on what I make with my writing, so I can devote my time to telling stories instead of dealing with what people call a “real job”. Even if that means living in a crappy flat in a shady neighbourhood. I talked to someone these days and mentioned I want to be a professional author. Her response? “Well, that sure is a nice dream…”, in a tone that made clear she didn’t believe I could ever make it. Granted, we don’t know each other that long, but even so, why trample on other people’s dreams like that? If a med student mentions he wants to be a surgeon, no-one goes “Oh, well, I’m sure that would be nice…” in the same tone of voice. So why do they do that when I talk about my dreams and wishes for the future? Don’t I count as a person who wants to be taken seriously? I can be silly and childish, I know that, but when it comes to writing, I’m dead serious. I’m not joking when I say that no matter what, I’m gonna be a writer. I don’t go and ridicule your dreams. So stop mocking mine.
…that turned out longer than I intended. Still, I think this needs to be said. If only one person understands now how a writer’s mind works, that was worth it.
-Ricarda (NaNo wordcount: 10604)