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Sunday, December 06, 2009

If You're Bitter About Writing, Then Quit

Through Nick Mamatas, I read this blogpost with a long quote from Lucius Shepard's novella "Dog-Eared Paperback of My Life".

Choice Quote:
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"[...] Of my many failings, the most galling was that I had wasted my gifts on genre fiction. I could have achieved much more, I believed, had I not gone for the easy money but, like Cradle Two, had been faithful to my muse.

Typically, I didn't count myself to blame but assigned blame to the editors and agents who had counseled me, to the marketers and bean counters who had delimited me, and to the people with whom I had surrounded myself—wives and girlfriends, my fans, my friends.

They had dragged me down to their level, seduced me into becoming a populist. [...]"

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Read the rest.

The complete passage isn't merely a fictional portrait of a fictional embittered writer (a commercially successful, one, mind you!). The entire text paints a portrait of writers who resent other writers and also hate themselves.

I've had different jobs. I can't say I enjoyed all of them equally, or had fun all the time (but who does? Is life supposed to be permanent bliss?).

So like any other work, the craft of writing has its ups and downs... as does the business of meeting readers and other writers. But does anyone in the world have the privilege to pick and choose which parts of the world they feel like interacting with? Hardly.

Reading the entire quote, I get the feel that Shepard is lampooning everybody including himself - writers and readers alike. Which is fine. (Even as I also thought, "Oh, cry me a river will you...")

But if I should encounter that bitter, self-pitying attitude in real life, without the irony or humor, I'd disapprove of it. Why should writers feel especially entitled to complaining about how they've wasted their lives and talents on doing inferior work for an audience of fools?

I believe in craft. I believe in the joy of doing a good job. I believe in self-expression. I believe that fiction and storytelling are as essential to human existence as breathing. I don't believe in bitterness; it's merely the bad side of human nature and shouldn't be elevated to "truth" or "honesty" because it isn't.

I once read an interview with Alistair MacLean, the bestselling thriller writer, where he claimed that he never wrote a good book, only junk.

Was he being sincerely self-hating, fishing for compliments, displaying false modesty, or just neurotic? I don't know and I don't care. But he did not make a good impression.

No matter what work you do, unless you're a slave and can't quit: If you're bitter about your job, then quit. If you're neurotic about writing, guess what: The world does not owe you therapy. So write, or don't write. It's up to you. There is no shame in doing other things for a living.