Tuesday, April 19, 2005

I'm No Margaret Mitchell

Main Entry: writ·er
Function: noun
: one that writes


Am I the only writer in journal land who does not want to publish a novel? Lately, I’ve taken pains to look at everything I read—magazine articles, blogs, online news snippets, newspaper reports, editorials, non-fiction, even ads—from the critical point of view of another writer. Much as I have always been a writer, I have never done that before. Maybe I’ve never thought of myself as a "writer" before. But I certainly fit the above definition.

In the minds of many, the terms "writer" and "novelist" seem synonymous. The ultimate work of fiction is the designated carrot dangling just beyond the reach of every scribe. The lifetime achievement. The Holy Grail. Fiction writers believe they have a monopoly on the creative aspects of writing. They promote writing as art, with the insinuation that if writers are artists, their masterpieces will be works of glorious, imaginative, flowery prose. Where does that leave the rest of us?

I have no desire to ever write a novel. Does that make me not quite a writer? I have nothing against "creative writing." I love poetry. I use it as my outlet for the purely artistic side of my writer self. But I never had any patience for all the literary machinations that go into writing fiction. I truly believe that one of the reasons I never went to college was that I was afraid I would be subjected to too many classes that consisted of having a gun put to my head to read all the most boring epics in the history of humanity, and then participating in the excruciating process of dissecting every bit of meaning, real or imagined, from these narcotic stories. Faulkner? Snore…Single sentences that filled entire pages. Dickens? He was paid by the word, for God’s sake. Tolstoy? Please! War and Peace?

Now I’ve gone and revealed one of my deepest secrets: I have no literary class. A deadly admission for a writer. I read fiction. But I read it for the stories. For the pure escapism of it. For its ability to immerse me in a persona, place and time that are not me, here, now. Any attempts at formulaic "Meaning of Life" symbolism generally go right over my head. I religiously avoid novels that contrive to teach me something. I really don’t want to have to think that hard about the fiction I read.

Why am I ranting about this? I don’t know. In my wanderings around journal land lately, I have noticed this almost sycophantic reverence for "published" writers. This gets under my skin, for some reason. It must be that little competitive gremlin that resides in me, who pops her head out and snarls from time to time, when I think someone is making a show of being better at something than I am. I’ve visited some of the blogs of our hallowed published writers, and it always seems to me that, as such, they are just a teensy bit smug; and somewhat pedantic in the way they relate to the rest of us. I suppose I just want to be comfortable being an unpublished writer, and I resent those that, by their very presence, suggest that isn’t good enough. I’m sure there are all kinds of convoluted psychological explanations for this. But I won’t bore you with any of my self-psychoanalysis. You’ll find that in my other journal… J


  1. You're not the only one:) Back in college I was an English Lit major and had the usual hopes of writing the Great American Novel. I think part of that was more of a longing for recognition than an actual burning desire to write. Eventually I just got down to the business of living life. That being said, I love reading the classics:)

  2. Oh...geez...I didn't mean to insult you.  The reference to "a real writer" was meant entirely as a self-disparaging comment.  And I don't equate fiction writing with "real" writing.  (Being paid, now that's another matter. )  I read way more nonfiction than fiction and, despite having majored in English long, long ago, I am much more comfortable recognizing excellence in nonfiction than in fiction or poetry.   I have thought for months that you are one of the 2 or 3 finest writers in J-land, and the reason I keep bugging you to submit your work is that you have an original voice of clarity and intensity and I think you should be recognized beyond the confines of our small village here.

  3. Lisa, I think it's great if someone wants to be published and pursues that, and it's equally great if they don't want that.  Being published isn't the end all and be all of writing.  I want to be published, and I have things to learn from published writers.  That doesn't mean that they are better writers than writers who don't desire publication or that I don't learn from writers who aren't published.  I think some of this is the cultural idealization that if you get paid for it, it makes you real.  If not, you're a diletantte. BS.  I love literature, and I love pulp fiction.  I can shift gears from Dickens to Koontz and relish each with equal pleasure, just for different things.  You have such talent and so much to say that I think the world would benefit from you having a more visible platform for your writing, but if it's not what drives you, if that would steal the joy you take in your writing, you shouldn't hesitate to say no, that's not what I want.  I know that having a lot of readership in your journal made you think long and hard about somethings.  Publication might do worse.  As for fiction being better somehow than non-fiction, bah. I was a journalism major. I know the difficulties of telling a factual story with accuracy, art and passion. M'lady, you succeed beautifully at doing that.

  4. I hate to admit....I was a business major. lol.  Lisa, you write with such passion it always blows me away!

  5. I write because I love to write, but mostly I think I write for myself and wouldn't lose a minute of sleep if nothing of mine ever gets published.  It's not a real goal of mine at all.  You appear to write because you love to write also.  I can tell that about people.

    I've met (through journals, mind you) a few published writers and I haven't felt intimidated by them, but I do think there is a reverence for these people.  I always take the opportunity to learn from others if I feel that I can.  I am amazed at the talent out there.  But what I've found is that there are an awful lot of people who are aspiring to be great writers and only a few actually succeed.

  6. Lisa,

    I have no desire to write a novel either!  I don't read fiction on a regular basis.  From time to time I go through fiction-phases. But for the most part I enjoy reading non-fiction.



  7. There was a journaler a while back whose entries I enjoyed. She then began writing a book online. I followed it and was thoroughly interested. I noticed a link to a book of poetry. Lo and behold it was hers. I thought what the heck, I'll support her endeavors and purchase it. When making the purchase, it suggested another book by her. They weren't all that much in cost so I bought them both.

    I was sorely disppointed!! Some of the poems are pretty good but the bulk of them don't interest me a bit. One of the books had the printing askewed and a bunch of blank pages smack in the middle. I looked closer at these "books" and hunted the publisher's website down. It's a company that the writer pays to have his or her books published by.  

    Moral: Anyone can be a "published writer." But, even if it's through the traditional means doesn't mean a hill of beans if the reader doesn't enjoy it. Literature like art and music is subjective. :-) ---Robbie