Literary pretense vs. the life of a working writer

By on Mar 30th

This weekend I've been chewing over issues of literature and the literary life as compared to the work and life of commercial writer. I've paid my bills for a decade as a writer, I didn't do that by sniffing at potential clients — I've sacrificed most of my snobbery when it comes to the written word. I am firmly in the writing proletariat, and you can see that in my style. Conversational, accessible, maybe a little pedantic and hipstery, but always accessible.

The issue for me flares up when I peek into the world of literature and recoil a bit at the pretence. Language can be used for the powers of good or the powers of evil, and I get cringey and pissed off when I see people using words for the powers of evil. Evil meaning "intentionally making others feel stupid to make themselves feel smarter."

Big words get used in painfully unnecessary ways, with pauses written into prose so the writer can back on their heels and say "See that? See what I did there?" I can't decide whether I want to roll my eyes or shuffle away with embarrassment. This kind of literary snobbery give writers everywhere a bad name, making everyone think we're all arrogant smartypants who use big words to confuse the intellectual plebeians.

I got into a discussion with another writer (a books editor for a local paper) about young adult fiction Friday. He argued that YA is "what people read when they don't really want to read," and that there are a lot of great writers slumming in YA these days. The moral seemed to be, "If you're not challenged by what you're reading, then you're not really reading" and "if you're not writing something challenging, you're not really writing." (To be fair, dude's a books editor. He thinks about these things all day.)

Many of these issues came up for me when I attended a writing workshop a couple years ago. With the exception of the leader, I was the only working writer in the workshop. I was shocked when the discussion turned to negotiating your spouse being your writing patron – of course the workshop was mostly women, and some of them nodded grimly and made notes. "OK to ask husband to support me while I write." I got all huffy and thought to myself about the times when I'd supported my husband with my writing – granted, I was writing marketing crap, but why moon over your dreams of being a writer when you could actually get out in the trenches and DO IT?

Sometimes literary programs make me get all huffy and pull-up-your bootstraps irrational, muttering, "You shouldn't need some patron to support you while you write something beautiful. You should buck up and get work as a writing grunt!"

Yes, yes: I'm deeply biased by the path that I've chosen for myself. Just because I'm a whore who's willing to sacrifice my literary integrity to pay my bills doesn't mean everybody should make the same decision. But it's the snobbery that gets me … I guess I just don't have much sympathy for tragic creatives. The starving artist hunched over his 7th unpublished novel isn't any more a writer than the whore biding their 9-to-5 hours cranking out copy about ear and nose hair trimmers. There's a huge amount of romance around the former, while the second grunts along quietly paying their bills doing what they love.