So I was reading Nathan Bransford's blog today. I don't recall the topic, but in the comments, writers were saying stuff I've heard writers say lots of times. And I realized I didn't really believe some of them. In fact, there are a few things writers claim that I hardly ever believe. I don't think they're necessarily lying. I think a lot of them have convinced themselves that they're telling the truth. But I also think there are writers who, especially when commenting in a forum likely read by publishing types, think there are certain things they're supposed to say. So they say them. Suck-ups.
The worst of these is something along the lines of "I have to write." You don't. You have to sleep. You have to drink water. Less often, you have to eat. (Unless you're an Olson twin.) People say they have to write because it sounds good, like the writer is not only dedicated, but physically addicted. Because we all know how appealing addiction is, no?
Then there's the opposite: the tortured writer who comes to the computer kicking and screaming. Like exercise, this writer, who can often be found on bestseller lists, claims she really hates to do it, but, because she's such a pro, she makes herself and, although she's not exactly happy to have it done, she can at least go about the rest of her day. (Which is almost always equally awful.)
I'm also bothered by the whole "my characters go off and do shit on their own without my permission" stuff. I get that you're really into your story and that you dream about your characters. I get that you put your characters in situations and then realize those characters are going to act differently than originally planned. I even get that your characters unexpectedly change during the course of writing a novel. But you are the creator. You are the god of your story. And you decide what your characters will say, do, and feel. So please, quit acting like you've created such amazingly deep characters that they've actually turned into real people with the ability to make decisions on their own. Cause that just sounds like a bad Will Smith movie.
One more: "I don't care if I ever get published/I write only for myself." Look, part of why I write is to entertain myself. But the truth is, I can entertain myself without ever writing any of it down. And I don't slave over commas and word choice out of fear of disappointing myself. Ultimately, 90 percent of what I write is intended to be read by other people. Hopefully, lots of other people.
And now that you're all frothing and your fingertips are itching to disagree with me (just in case an agent stumbles onto my comments and remembers you as the one who agreed that you actually don't have to write), allow me to say some things that I, as a teacher, am not supposed to say:
- Not all kids are cut out for college.
- Yes, they can all learn, but they can't all learn what we want them to. And I'm not talking about speed. I'm talking about there are some kids who are never going to get certain things like I am never going to understand the internal combustion engine. (Are engines still internally combustible?)
- I am not "in it for the kids." And I am not alone. Don't get me wrong, I like the kids. I'd much rather spend eight hours with them instead of adults, but they are not why I put up with the associated nonsense. That reason is simple: pay and benefits, just like most of you at your jobs.*
*Some proof that I'm not alone: Here in Michigan, funding is being cut and will be cut even further next year. When these cuts occur, most teachers will not take much of a salary hit because their unions (comprised of teachers) will fight that vigorously. What will happen instead? Cuts will be made to other programs, programs that help kids. Newer teachers, ones with the most energy and innovative ideas, will be laid off, which will in turn increase class sizes, which has been shown to negatively impact student performance. (And teachers who've been around forever will complain of having 35 kids in their rooms, not realizing the rich irony.**)I'm not proud of any of this, but the truth is, there are a whole lot of teachers who are not just doing it "for the kids."
I'm also not willing to be overly critical. I never took a vow. I never received a calling. This ain't the clergy; it's a job, and it's increasingly becoming a job that's coming dangerously close to surrogate parent for way too many of these kids. So I can understand teachers wanting paychecks in line with other professionals.
**I've never really understood irony.