Wednesday, December 2, 2009

On Writing and Its Stigmatisms

Not too long ago, I had a conversation with someone in a different country and the question of occupations arose. "I'm a writer," I replied. The response was a bit of a shock to me: "That's not a real job." What he meant was "that's not a job with a W-2, regular biweekly paychecks, and some security". It reminded me of something my mother once said. Upon telling her aunt she wanted to be a writer, she was told, "Why, that's a great idea! All you have to do is sit there and type up something and get paid for it!"

Both extremes have their points... yet neither gives you a true picture of what being a writer really is. it's grueling research, back-story writing, drafting, and a billion other things... all penciled into regular life with the hopes that someone, somewhere will recognize it as "worthy of publication" and hand you over a meager farthing for your toils. Unless you're a Stephen King, you're lucky to make minimum wage.

Let's face it. Writing is hard work (though maybe not physically) and while many people wish to do it, few follow through with the daunting task of finishing a book. No matter what your topic or genre, it's rough out there. Critics can be downright cold-hearted. Being a nobody can land you in front of a dozen padlocked doors. You're the new kid in school, trying to find a few pals and a click that accepts you.

From my own experience, being a nonfiction writer comes with its own set of stigmas and opinions. There are those who feel you're not a "real writer". After all, you're just regurgitating someone else's work, right? Well, not exactly. You're researching like a fiend, pulling together resources and information to create an original work without saying what others already have. But unlike fiction, you have to check, double check, and triple check your sources, separating opinion from concrete truth. All this and it has to be in your own words. Believe me, it can be a nightmare.

The hardest pill for me to swallow was opening up the first copy of my book, Queer Hauntings, and seeing "Compiled by Ken Summers" glaring back at me. Compiled? Is that how some people view nonfiction? You're just gathering someone else's work and tossing it into your own binding? I can't count how many booksellers I had to talk to and explain that I wasn't the editor. Each chapter was my own work, not copied verbatim from elsewhere. After slaving away on a breakneck three-month deadline, I wanted people to know that a lot of hard work went into my first "official" book (I say that because, I self-published a small book of local interest prior to finding an actual publisher for a book of wider interest).

For all writers, fiction and nonfiction, our work is our baby. We put everything into what we create and send it out into the world, hoping that it can walk on its own two feet and someone will appreciate what we did. It's a branch of our own self, a piece of who we are. We might get a little sensitive at the words and criticisms we hear, but it comes from being that protective parent. No one wants a product of their labors to be torn apart, nitpicked, or belittled. Still, it comes with the territory.

So, is it worth it? Is venturing forth to write the next novel or biography a wise idea given the strong probability that there will be negativity to endure? Without a doubt, yes. Bad comes with good in every aspect of life. For every jibe, there's a pat on the back waiting. Just a simple "thank you" from a reader at a book signing can make all the not-so-pleasant obstacles seem unimportant. A wise person once told me, "Don't let the music die within you." Good books are only written when the creators have the courage to take the leap and let their words be heard.

1 comment:

Jaime Samms said...

Thanks, Ken. I think we all need to hear that sort of encouraging reminder once in a while.