Self Deprication Through The Ages

Posted: June 13, 2010 in Ink & Feather
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Alright. So. I haven’t exactly been blogging recently, what with The Stuff being sort of busy, and as I refuse to become one of those bloggers who only updates to lament their lack of appropriate updates, I’ve basically been keeping my type-mouth shut until such time as I have (a) something relevant to say and (b) time enough in which to say it. By way of relevancy to this approach, I have spent all day working on The Key to Starveldt, and am literally a hairsbreadth away from finishing my edits, which I will read over tomorrow, and thereinafter dance the dance of writerly accomplishment, which I’m pretty sure is code for Eat Curry And Watch Action Movies. But! Tonight, there has been a Thing, in the form of Controversy On Steph Bowe’s Blog, which can be found here.

Now, for those of you who are too lazy to follow that link, or who might appreciate an external summary in any case, the key of the brou-ha-ha is this: that Steph is a 16-year-old author. Her first book is being released in September this year, and, as might reasonably be expected, she tends to blog about it, as well as other things. The above post was sparked by negative comments here, wherein some of her bloggy remarks were discussed sans context, and which, not unsurprisingly, have prompted her to ask her readers for their take on the situtation. Which I have now chosen to do, here, rather than clog up her comments page. Obviously.

The quote that caused the contention goes as follows:

“I’m 16. I got a book deal when I was 15. There are authors that were published at 13 and 14 and I always find myself thinking, God, must I fail at everything I do? They were published younger than me!”

Now, I remember reading this when Steph first blogged it and thinking, ‘Shit! I know exactly what she means.’ Because although I am talking to you from the year 2010, when, as a 24-year-old married woman with one published novel and a second (see above) that I am on the brink of handing over to my publisher, there was a time, readers – not so long ago, even! – wherein I was eleven, writing a fantasy story for children and feeling absolutely convinced that if said manuscript was not on shelves before I turned thirteen, then I was doomed to failure. Because writers are self depricating that way, and in order to get absolutely anything done, we must set ourselves arbitrary – often crazy! – deadlines. Note that this makes us Interesting People, and not at all mad. No sir. *Snorts into wineglass.*

Let me also state, for the purposes of absolute accuracy, that said manuscript was never published. Probably it has been relegated to the farthest reaches of my Documents folder, there to wither and die like a winter mango. But the point is, all writers are intimidated by other writers, and doubly so by the prospect of anyone getting the drop on them, publication-wise. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what we might colloquially refer to as a fact. In this sense, it does not matter if you have wanted to be a writer since you were six or only made the decision on your sixtieth birthday: as in all creative endeavours, we carry around with us the fear that we are not good enough; that someone, somewhere will beat us to the punch; and, worst of all, that someone younger – more untried, with fewer years invested in making such a difficult career work – might land their book on shelves ahead of us. Don’t lie, writers: each and every one of us thinks we’re special, and even though we yearn to meet fellow wordsmiths, there is always that moment of tension, a sizing-up in which we determine the likelihood of their talents surpassing our own, and try to gauge how jealous we should be.

Yes, I can see how, to someone who is in their thirties and as-yet unpublished, the idea of a teenager lamenting that they weren’t signed to an agency at a younger age might read as the punchline to a very bitter, very personal joke. But that same person would also be equally within their rights to land over here at Shattersnipe, assuming they’d ever heard of Foz Meadows – which, granted, is unlikely – and bitch about how unfair it is of me, a twentysomething, to be anything but utterly one hundred percent super-duper all the time grateful for having a book on shelves. But somehow, that resentment doesn’t carry quite as much weight, does it? Because as least I’ve put in the hours. At least I’ve suffered for my art, or something equally Goddam pretentious.

Look: every writer wishes they could be published tomorrow. The publication process is not easy, and it is not always fair. Sometimes, it can feel like creative masochism. But one neither gains nor loses writerly cred contingent upon the age at which they were published. Some adult writers are awful! So are some teens! The envy we feel on hearing of someone younger producing a book has nothing to do with the quality of their work, and everything to do with how long therafter we imagine they will have to ply their trade uninterrupted by such mundane necessities as Other Jobs and Paying The Rent and Everything That Does Not Involve Being An International Writing Superstar. Which is ludicrous, when you consider that the average annual income for an Australian author is $13,000. Thirteen-effing-thousand. OK? I once worked at a cafe for ten bucks an hour washing dishes, and probably earned a better yearly wage than that. Take out the few top earners after whom the rest of us lust, our canine tongues lolling against the hot pavement, and maybe the statistic gets a little better, but ultimately, we write because we love to write, because the words are in us to be told, and if we do not get them on paper, then there is a distinct possibility that we will implode. As my favourite teacher once pointed out during a friendly exchange of ideas, anyone who claims that they would happily do this without pay, forever, is lying – or at least, they are not quite telling the whole truth. If stories are truly a part of you, then the money doesn’t matter. Telling them is just a thing you will do, in odd corners of the day, forever, no matter that the world is slowly eating your soul. But not a one of us would turn down payment for the privilege of doing so, were it offered to us. And, as in all creative industries, writers worry that their Great Work will be kept out in the cold, not because it lacks merit, but because some other upstart, talentless johnny has stolen their shelving space.

Where am I going with this? Oh, right: teenage writers. Yes. The point being, we are all fearful of the Young Turks Usurping Our Dreams. At least in terms of maturity, we feel there must be a cut-off point for publishable works, which is understandable – a point below which there are no junior competitors –  but in reality, that fear is native to our profession, and not to our age bracket. If it were impossible to get published at any age other than thirty, naysayers would still show up on the blogs of their aspirant peers and question whether or not they had, as it were, The Goods. Because tying writerly cred to the age of publication, and trying thereby to dismiss the achievements of younger writers as publicity stunts, is essentially an exercise in ignoring actual talent – perhaps more understandably, it is also a way of coping with the apparently random machniations of the publishing industry. We want to believe there is some reason why our book is not yet a household name, while Jimmy Unknown Teen has been signed to write a trilogy. As a teenage writer, I used to feel an uprising of brute despair every time my considerate and well-meaning father would point me towards a newspaper article lauding the success of some teenage author or other. What he was trying to say was, you can do it, too! but all I heard was, you haven’t done it yet, and what’s more, they’ve got there first, which makes your eventual success seem that much more unlikely. Self-depricating, yes, but also honest. It’s that fear factor, see?

Yes, there are times at which adolescent writers seem to get more media coverage than the rest of us, if only because some parts of public view them as a novetly act. But that does not mean they cannot write, and in cases like this one, it seems to suggest that actually, leaving their age out of it might be the kinder thing to do, as there are few things in the creative world more insulting than the assumption that one has not gained success via any possession of actual talent, but only because of some native and utterly unrelated quality – such as, for instance, youth, beauty and/or pre-existing fame. It is tantamount to an accusation of Selling Out, but as Jane Lane of Daria once made clear, in order for that to happen, you have to have someone interested in buying, which would seem to put a damper on the whole teen-writers-have-no-real-skills argument.

Plus and also? Blogs are for blogging. What that means depends on the blogger. If you want restricted content, go read a newspaper, ‘coz we here on Teh Internets ride tall in the saddle, which is code for Doing What We Find Interesting In the Absence Of A Paying Audience, Which, Like, You’re Not, So Shut The Hell Up.

Here endeth the rant. And now, back to editing! Enjoy your long weekend.

Comments
  1. E. Markham says:

    I think it’s a shame that, as wonderful as the internet is, it seems to encourage people to have knee-jerk reactions and often be a bit nasty.

    When I read that quote in your post my first thought was “that’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself” but I’m a pretty un-competitive, un-driven person so I guess that’s not surprising!

    Maybe because of that, I’m always surprised at the jealousy and competitiveness of writers. I expect to find competitive people in all parts of life, but I suppose the publishing industry heightens it too because we all know there are only x-number of spots for new titles / new authors. At a guess, I’d say it’s also a protective mechanism for some – how to survive getting a rejection or two (or 10) a year every year for 10 / 20 years. Just not a very nice one.

    It’s not exclusive to the age thing either…Did you see that Neil Gaiman was copping some flack for his speaking fees? As though he’s not allowed to make the most of his success. Why? Because he’s an “artist”? (Ironically he sets them high not to make money but to discourage speaking engagements so he has more time to write, but still.)

    Can’t say I’m immune to the green-eyed monster though… I suffer from genre-envy. Every time I look at a best selling thriller I think “why can’t more people love sci-fi like that?”!

    • fozmeadows says:

      Well said! None of are immune to flashes of jealousy, but the point is not to be dominated by them, and at the end of the day, I’d far rather be happier at someone’s else’s success than brood over it.

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