Writers are Weird

February 1, 2008

Great post today (rant, really) on the blog of fellow author Jim Hines (http://jimhines.livejournal.com).  I heartily recommend it.  And it got me thinking….

We writers are an odd bunch.  On the one hand, we constantly seek out community of one sort or another.  We look for workshops, writing groups, online communities where we can discuss issues of process and creativity (I’m involved with two right now — http://www.sfnovelists.com/ and http://magicalwords.net/), and any other way we can think of to meet up with our own kind.

At the same time, though, we tend toward professional jealousy, genre and subgenre rivalry, and, at times, open hostility toward those who have, in our opinion, achieved commercial or critical success that exceeds our own despite the obvious literary shortcomings of their work.  Clearly, some of this territoriality is understandable.  There are a finite number of publishing slots; bookstores can only stock so many books; there are only a handful of awards given out each year; the short fiction market is shrinking.  We are, on one level, in competition with one another.

But it seems to me that we gain more from our communal impulses than we do from the competitive ones.  Jim’s post, quite apart from the humor, raises a crucial point:  our chances of being published and, by extension, being successful with our books, have much more to do with what we write than with any external factor.  Yes, if my books fail, there are dozens of writers-in-waiting eager to take my publishing slot.  But by the same token, if my books are successful — commercially and artistically — and one or three or ten or those writers-in-waiting produce books that also show potential for success in the eyes of their editors, all of us will be published. 

I am not immune from the jealousies I mentioned before.  Far from it.  And I am as likely as any other writer to whine about wanting more publicity, better bookstore placement, more prominent reviews.  But I guess Jim helped me see, at least for today, that if I want to claim my successes as my own, I’d better be willing to do the same with my failures.  And chances are that’ll be easier as part of a community whose members understand the highs and lows of this profession as intimately as I do.

Today’s music:  Mark Whitfield (7th Avenue Stroll)


6 Responses to “Writers are Weird”

  1. Brian said

    Wow, what you describe sounds a lot like the world of academia that I have experienced (Im sure you have too). On the one hand I like gathering around fellow veterinarians, and pathologists and discussing things in detail that I cant talk to my wife or relatives about. Its part of what keeps us sharp and up to date.

    On the other hand when I see a glowing review praising a fellow veterinarian for his accomplishments I feel a paradoxical jealousy, but at the same time an inspiration to imitate.

    In the world of professional writers I can believe there is more heated competition, since your livelihood is at stake.

    Does the competition ever take away from the reward of writing a good book? Or if you work is not highly acclaimed, does it wear away at your confidence as a writer?

    PS. I just read your Reagan blog, and I was wondering if you try, on purpose, to write books with current day social meaning, like Gullivers Trsavels, or Do you purposely shy away from making your stories a commentary on things you feel strongly about? Or is it somewhere in between?

  2. davidbcoe said

    Thanks for the comment, Brian, and also for the questions. Yeah, I suppose there are times when the feelings of jealousy (which, I think, are probably what you mean when you say “the competition”) detract from the joys of writing. More precisely, I find that if a book of mine isn’t selling well, or if it gets bad reviews (not that such a thing could ever happen to one of my books….) I get down on myself, I have negative feelings about my career prospects, sometimes I get angry and resentful. That anger isn’t directed at other writers — it’s more generalized than that. I get mad at the entire industry in a way. But it passes. When it comes right down to it, I love what I do, and I feel pretty good about the work I put out.

    To answer your other question, I do try in my writing to address issues about which I have strong feelings. My books have touched on ecological issues; race, ethnic identity and prejudice; gender issues; drug addiction. I feel that this gives my work added significance, it makes writing more interesting for me, and, I hope, makes my work more thought provoking for my readers. That said, I do this to explore different sides of issues, not to argue a single point of view. I try not to write polemical work. And actually I’ve had people tell me (including the person who wrote the comment objecting to my Reagan rant) that I do manage to keep my works ideologically neutral.

  3. You certainly do point out both sides of an argument in your work.

    Oh, Oh, off topic question…

    Do you have a favorite character? You’ve given life to so many characters, is there a favorite or are you the “daddy” and love them all equally?

  4. davidbcoe said

    Oh, I DEFINITELY have favorites (although, for the record, I don’t play favorites with my own kids). In my LonTobyn trilogy, my favorite characters were (in no particular order) Orris, Melyor, and Gwilym. I also liked Cailin. (My twelve year-old daughter, who is reading the series right now, likes Cailin and Melyor best.) In the Forelands series, my favorites were Tavis, Grinsa, Keziah, and Evanthya. And my favorite character in The Sorcerers’ Plague is definitely Besh.

  5. I just finished Sorcerers’ Plague today, I’ll be posting my thoughts on chapters.ca soon. It really was fantastic.

    Every time I decide I like one of your characters better than the rest, another one comes along and does something I like even more. I really liked Xaver, and I actually cried. Which sucked, because I was at work and then a customer came in and gave me funny looks. Off the top of my head, I particularly liked Cresenne, Tavis, and Grinsa from the Forelands. Meylor is by far my favorite in the LonTobyn trilogy, though Baden comes a close second. As for the Southlands…I haven’t decided yet.

    Though, I think you’ll have to do another series with Bryntelle all grown up. Pwetty Pwease? Wif Suga’ on top?

  6. davidbcoe said

    Thanks, Michele. I’m glad you enjoyed Sorcerers’ Plague, and I appreciate your willingness to post a response to the book. I also appreciate the kind words about my characters.

    A series about Bryntelle in her adult years? Hadn’t considered that before. I’ll think about it….

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