Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I Don't Believe You

Blog business first: Thanks to Abby, Yaya, and Top Dragon for joining the party. Your followership has pushed the number to fifty and that is at once awesome and baffling. Not unlike Barry Gibb's voice.

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.


Anonymous said...

So I think this is my second straight comment where I begin with "I'm not a writer" or some derivation but I gotta give you a virtual high five for being a teacher and preaching it like it is.

Because people refuse to believe that not all kids are college material (either intellectually, motivationally or both), the university system has gotten so dumbed down that I have a degree and I having to go back and teach myself the things that should have been part of my curriculum in college. Disgraceful.

Here's the logical fallacy....

Fact #1 - We want our kids to 'succeed' (however one defines that)
Fact #2 - College graduates make more money

Faulty Assumption #1 - To be a success our kids need to make more money, ergo college.

Hidden Truth #1 - Some people are fully satisfied in fields that don't require college

Faulty Assumption #2 - College graduates make more money BECAUSE they graduated from college

Hidden Truth #2 - Graduating college is an indicator of talent/intelligence, not a creator of it

Big Scary Hidden Truth #3 - If you are below average intellectually, attending college is not going to 'solve' it

I wish that schools would stop telling kids that college is the secret to their happiness and that colleges would stop bending over backwards to accept people who have no business slowing down the progress of the kids for whom college is a valuable experience.

I have a scrap of a paper that says I have a BA in history which is practically worthless to me - not because I don't feel that I earned it, but because I personally know the low caliber of some of my classmates who hold the exact same honor.

Wow, that turned bitter very quickly...

Matty said...

gotta subscribe to comments... sorry.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I agree with everything you said about writing and writers. But then you got to teacher. I taught for 17 years. I taught because I loved it. I have former students who have been in touch with me for up to 16 years. I "retired" from teaching because I couldn't get on a soapbox and say how much I loved my job and how it was one of the most important things a person could do. You have to do it because you love it. The salary is NOT worth it. I don't know if you know any teachers that work from 7:45-3:00 Monday from Friday. The ones I knew like that needed to leave the profession. I left because we went through 11 principals and assistant principals in the 4 years I taught in my last school. Not fun anymore...

Oh I do agree with what you said about kids and learning...

Best wishes with your writing and your school year.

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

Don't faint, but I agree w/everything you said re: writing. And I'm not in the least bit afraid to say so. I LOVE writing (well, most of the time!), I don't HAVE to write. And I am the Goddess of my word count. I do believe in letting the muse lead the way, but I am the ultimate ruler of my stories. If a character wants to fight me over a scene guess who wins? Me. That's who. THE WRITER! Of course, that's really just me fighting with myself, but I'm trying to make a point here.

I'm not a teacher, so I'm not throwing my hat in the ring on that one. I respect and admire those who teach. Personally, I'd rather spend a day cleaning floors than being in a room with a bunch of preteens. But that's because I know which types of torture I prefer. ;-)

Ray Veen said...

Paul. Your honesty frightens me.

Please don't ever run for public office.

Shannon said...

Ha! I've been reading all the comments on Nathan Bransford's blog this morning and I just love what you've said here! I'm with you.

Monica said...

oh Ray Veen, i think it would be a treat for PMM to run for Public Office. I can see the Press questions now.

Mr. Murphy, tell me why you want to run for governor of our great state?
"well, the salary is awesome, you get holidays off, and the governor's mansion is hella cool"

I do appreciate your honesty, PMM. I think that people who say they 'write to live' are pretentious. You can live without writing.
I'll direct you to the comments section on an article posted on Bookninja

where "Luisa" talks about a writer named CLarice Lispector, who says she writes for the same reason other people drink water. Gag me.

I love your comments, Matty. Lots of people are extremely satisfied in jobs that don't require higher education. And i am glad that they are there. Some people have talents and abilities that higher education does not recognize or enhance. Just because you have some letters after your name does not mean you're smarter than the guy who doesn't. It mostly means you spent more money. (part of my motivation for completing my university degree was so i could put BS after my name... lol)

One of the main reasons i became a nurse was not so i could help people. I was working night shift in a nursing home, and derived from the level of intelligence of those that graduated with a diploma in nursing from a community college, that it couldnt be that hard. And there would always be sick people, so i'd always have work. Since that time, i've grown into this, found my niche, and gotten really good at what i do. But its not a calling. It's my job.

Amy said...

I agree w/most everything you say in this post and honestly, it's refreshing to hear you say, "I'm not in it for the kids." I love my kids and I like most others, but I am so sick and tired of EVERYTHING in this world being for and about children. God knows it wasn't that way when I was growing up and I'm doing ok.
As for the writer issues, I totally agree w/your first point--the one where writers say "I have to write." That one drives me nuts. It sounds affected. I read an interview w/a writer somewhere and she said, "I write because I simply must. There's nothing else I can or am supposed to do." I stuck my finger down my throat. I think these people believe these statements make them sound "writetly" or more literary when in reality we can all see through the B.S.

Heather Kelly said...

There is the funny zeitgeist about the internet, where people start talking about the same thing at the same time, or maybe just the whole cyber world reads Nathan's blog.

Author Erica Orloff asked a similar question the other day on her blog--is writing a choice or a calling? She had some interesting responses. And nobody said they were going to die if they couldn't write.

I actually couldn't read though the comments on Nathan's blog without thinking that many were posers. And then I stopped reading all together. People who say that writing doesn't feed their soul just shouldn't write. 'Nuff said.

And while we are talking about people's histrionics, I'm listening to Tori Amos right now: "Give me Life, Give me Pain, Give me Myself again." Good stuff.

Lily Cate said...

Yes, teachers are underpaid. I have teachers in my family, who are brilliant, and devoted, and make very little and they don't like that part. I never understood why people think teachers are ungrateful for wanting to earn a decent living after putting in all the time to get trained, and the long, long days of at times stressful work. And the bitchy people who went to public school, but now don't think they should have to pay taxes for it because they don't have kids- WTF?

However, teachers in our county still make more than my husband, who holds two college degrees which were required for his job. He works at the local prison, running a program to try to reduce the recitivism of domestic abusers.
i.e, he tries to stop guys in jail from beating their wives and kids once they are released.
He gets no benefits, because the non-profit that sponsors the program can't afford it, and to pay ourselves would be nearly half his monthly salary.
And then I have an uncle who produces underwear catalogues and makes a six figure salary. What can you do but shrug?

And as for college??
I could rant about that for a country mile. We're thinking about letting our son use his "college fund" to travel the world after high school.

Monica said...

I'm not sure if it's the zeitgeist, or this article

about a gentleman that has taken a break from writing to look after his daughter. I know that generated a lot of comments about why people write, and how vitally important it is to them.

December said...

You know - I'm a new (ish) writer, and its a heck of a lot easier NOT to write. its so much easier to let the TV entertain you, or another book.

I do LOVE to read, and I love storytelling. I write because its fun to make shit up, and becuase I like how other authors can take me into another world. I'd like to do that for people. (and of course, Money and Fame and tra la la.)

Unknown said...

Thanks for all the thoughtful comments.(Especially the ones that agree with me.)Someone should study whether long posts result in long comments because man, I thought I was verbose.

@matty--Agree with everything. (which is no fun at all, by the way)

@Sharon--Glad to hear you loved teaching. Lots of teachers do. I like it quite a lot most days, and like I said in the post, there is very little I'd rather get paid to do.

@Debra--Cleaned floors in college. Teaching's better.

@Ray--Don't worry. I don't like touching other people's babies.

@Shannon--You catch on quick.

@Monica--you didn't expect me to read all that, didja? ;)

@Amy--the problem I have is the lip service. It would be one thing if everything really was about kids. I might even climb aboard that train. But you can't claim "children are our future" and then take them to see Saw 8.

@Heather--I really can't stand reading blog comments on agents' sites.

@Lily Cate--I'm actually one of the few teachers I know that believes I am not underpaid. I'd take more money, though, if anyone's offering.


Kelly Polark said...

Murph, I also agree that teachers have a fair salary (and I am a former full time teacher, current sub). Teachers work 185-200 days a year.
And yes, teachers get a salary (who would say no thank you to that), but seriously the reason why I got into teaching was to teach kids and spend my days with them. I love it. Did I have frustrating days? Absolutely. But I went each day for the kids, not thinking about the pay check.
I also volunteer in my kids' school. This has two reasons: to be with kids, specifically my own, and to help the teacher knowing how much busy work they have to do in a day (copying, putting together booklets, kids projects, etc).
So those that say they do it for the kids, I think the majority really mean it. Yes, they also need the pay, but the intrinsic motivation is the children. And hell yes, there are a handful in every school that do it for the paycheck and summers off and that's it.

Tina Laurel Lee said...

I have a comment about the whole "calling" and writing and teaching. I realize I tend to fall too much toward the touchy-feely side of things and being pragmatic is so much cooler but I don't know why the hell we do these things if it wasn't some part of yourself is driven to it by something bigger than you can possibly be. It's damn hard to write and to teach and there has been no particular indication that I am any good at it and that I will ever be paid for it with any kind of fame or fortune. I go back and forth on it, because I'm not doing it out of the goodness of my heart, because lord knows it doesn't do anyone besides myself any kind of good(just ask my family). And for me sometimes it's torture and sometimes it's like a good high. Who can do that but god? I don't know about any of this really. I'm sorta just playing Devil's Advocate(or the lord's as the case may be). I do know that I don't HAVE to do this. But why the hell do I do it? It would be nice to say that the devil or little faeries or Tom Waits made me. It would be good to have some kind of excuse.

(Thanks for the email, PMM.)

Unknown said...

Well it does beat watching TV, Tina.

Anita said...

If someone told me, "Anita, you will never, ever sell a book," I would still write the books. Put me on a lie detector. It's the truth. Just like some people knit (I'll never get that) and some people run marathons (ditto), I write. I would love to make some cash off my books, but that would just be the gravy. And I don't care what agent(s) read(s)s this comment or any comment I put on their blog(s), because agents are not after my comments, they are after kick-ass books. Which brings me to...I know there are probably a lot of writers who comment on agent blogs to kiss the agents' butts, but that's not why I do it. I follow and comment on JANET REID, but I don't think I'll query her for my current manuscript, because it's not a good fit. And there's about a one in a billion chance of me ever working with MOONRAT, but I still check in on her blog regularly and comment there sometimes too. I'm not kissing her butt, I simply really like her. So...we're not all thinking like you think we're thinking.

And I don't really want to say this, but my character is forcing me to: Go have some chocolate milk or something.

Unknown said...

Ouch, Anita.

Sensitive much?

Lily Cate said...

Sorry, I kind of went off on a ran-tangent there :)
I hear a lot of criticism of teachers, school districts and social workers, or maybe I'm just too sensitive to it.
Everytime we have a referendum around here to give the schools more money, people freak out, and I get littered with flyers and mailers telling me how horrible it is that the school is asking for more money. (Not just teachers directly) I think where I was going was a complaint about the school district laying off teachers to save money.
I get a little defensive of my teacher friends!

On the writing, it's something I've been doing since I was in grade school. I'll keep doing it as long as I get something out of it, I suppose.

Unknown said...

All of you wrote too much. I'm "on the lam" again.

I got to use "on the lam" when teaching The Outsiders this year. Felt good.

Corey Schwartz said...

Ha, ha. Especially on the "my characters go off and do shit on their own without my permission" part. Love your honesty!

Monica said...

PMM... kinda

Anita said...

Whatevs. :)

I'm mostly done with SPANKING SHAKESPEARE and like it. I didn't like the pot-smoking scene, though...didn't think he needed it there. Not a prude, but think it would keep me from buying the book for my nephews (who would probably think the pot-smoking scene was funny).