My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Follow Up on Daily Writing (Mailbox)

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Friday.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. I sometimes use FB comments as blog fodder too.]   

In response to this post on Facebook, Dylan writes:

"Just don't turn around and whinge about your stymied writing career or expect sympathy when your novel is rejected. Traditional publishing is hard to break into, but that's probably not why you were rejected."

I take serious issue with this portion of your response to the extremely rude commenter. 

It's kinda reverse rainmaker logic: you allow for the caveat earlier in the article that there are SOME people who don't write daily that'll end up published, and we all know most people won't be published, so it's pretty safe and hollow point of emphasis to use "haha you weren't published" in this context.

Traditional publishing is hard to break into, and it is almost certainly why anyone was rejected. Yes, people get better with practice, and people who write everyday have had a lot more practice under their belts. And yes, it's been well documented that routine can be effectively utilized, but we all know publishers aren't really a measure of writing ability. Statistically, they seem to be a measure of whiteness, straightness, maleness, and being at least middle class. The publishing industry is probably a step above the SAT in terms of being a useful judge of anything other than what someone somewhere thought white audiences would pay to read your work. 

I believe that people who write everyday have a better shot at being published, but think about who is writing everyday? People who can afford to do so. I know the endless parade of stories of people in dire situations who found a way to buckle down, get to work, and pull themselves up by their bootstraps despite adversity to get off welfare...er...I mean...get published. It's kinda weird how that logic works in both scenarios? 

Instead of laying these invisible qualifiers people need to hit to deserve to be published (I know you never directly said anyone didn't deserve to be published because they don't write everyday, but saying they don't deserve sympathy is only hair splittingly different), why isn't focus on the real problem:

Capitalism is awful, and one of the negative side effects is that a publishing industry made up of mostly a few large conglomerates that mostly publish white people's work decide what most audiences are going to read?

I know that, to some degree, this is the world we live in and we need to be pragmatic about that if you want to accomplish certain things in this world. And so it's not my claim that there isn't a space for advice giving, but there's such a stark contrast between:

"Hey, I know it's sucks, but this is a thing many published writers do. Do with that what you please, but understand that being white is also a thing many published writers do, so if you don't succeed don't beat yourself up about it."


'Don't come crying to me if you didn't write everyday!'

Rude anons aside, the non-rude writers to be that might read this could get a very wrong idea by, what in my opinion is, a very misplaced tone.

My reply:

Ah Dylan, would that everyone were as reasonable as you and signed their name to what they wrote, I wouldn't feel compelled to aim the B-5000 Snark Canons at their face. Sadly, tis not the world the internet has made so.

More's the pity.

Please understand that I get one or two bits of hate mail each month saying that there is no real need for a writer to write daily. These letters don't extol the virtues of writing for pleasure or of producing art when creativity strikes. They literally claim that I am full of shit for suggesting that one can't make a career out of weekend warrior effort, and often that include ironic tidbits like "I've only got the first couple of chapters written, but you're going to be sorry you ever said that you asshole!" And usually when I respond to mail, I'm responding directly to whomever wrote it not sanitizing it as a public service announcement for my audience.

That's sort of my shtick here. My art. My blog. My thing.

So now...I'm going to reply to YOU.

In theory, I agree with almost everything you've said here, but as direct umbrage to what I've written, it seems to put some carts before horses and talk past some pretty key points. Given that you conflated my advice to those writers who are suffering from delusions of grandeur with one of privilege deniers' most repugnant ideologies (bootstrapping), and further have decided that I'm "laughing" at the unpublished, you sort of threw the gauntlet. I have been Facebook glove slapped, and I kind of feel pressed to suggest that maybe in your zeal to have an "Aha!" moment, you missed my actual point. I think we've all got to be very careful that we discuss social justice for justice's sake, not to enact the kabuki theater of calling each other out. Six paragraphs of anti-capitalism, social justice ranting because I deigned to tell writers who want a career in writing that they might have to give writing career caliber effort seems a little overkill, if not a touch sanctimonious.

I'm as guilty as anyone of shoehorning in a social justice "teaching moment" into something that was never intended to be didactic, but I do at least try to make sure I've really parsed what I'm replying to if I'm directly challenging the person and not making a tangential point when what I really need is some fucking coffee or a groupie threesome to clear my head.

Maybe that ability to check the question comes from my rigorous, grueling training as an English major. One of the first, most important, lessons I learned (and I learned them all the hard way) was to return to the prompt/question after writing the essay and make SURE the essay answered the question. And that was before I even got into balancing tack hammers on my head.

First, I want to point out that the quote you pulled was one line in an article, dead smack in the middle, and surrounded by context on every side. You might even say it was in a context sandwich--perhaps even a thin slice of baked turkey in a loaded Italian deli sandwich....of context. Only by pulling off the pickles of compassion and the smoked cheddar of nuance and the tomatoes of mitigating factors can one truly think that comment was so dry and unappealing.

The three paragraphs before this quote are about being both part of developing writing into a full career and artistic fulfillment that need not involve daily work at all if it makes the artist happy. (Including four other links where I'd made similar points.) And the three paragraphs after it are about how creativity develops fully when done daily. "Tee Bee Aitch," that line is coupled to the context of the sentences before it in the paragraph, which are talking about people who write once a week or once a month. (Not enough to make a career of writing.) Cherry picking quotes...not so awesome.

But wait....there's more!

Let's look at the caveat you mentioned: "some people can be published without writing each day." Well, yes, that's true. I have said that a number of times because they're easy enough to find online, and the last thing I want is some pugnacious pedant jumping up and down with glee that I couldn't have been more wrong about not being published if you don't write every day. I've never heard of them or their books, but they do seem to exist and some are pretty proud that they don't write every day. What I did not say was that someone could make a career in writing without writing every day, and that was actually what I was talking about in the post.

Writing for a living is the "holy grail" that so many writers seem to desire. That can't come without daily effort, even if it's possible that some publishing accolades can. It would be like a doctor seeing patients once a week or a lawyer working on a case only once a month. There's a chance they might be able to do their thing, but they wouldn't be Patch Adams or Gloria Allred.

But wait....there's even more.

You're correct to point out that traditional publishing is whitewashed. I have done so myself. (A link that makes many of the same points you did about who can stick it out in traditional publishing and why--you should check it out Dylan.) In fact, that's the reason I have opted out of traditional publishing, and I'm so excited about the potential of non-traditional publishing on the world of words. I'm not just shrugging and saying "what can I do?" when it comes to my privilege.

White and male, but not even a little bit straight.
However--and this is a HUGE however--you seemed to be talking chiefly about being published in traditional publishing.

I wasn't talking about that at all.

I was talking about being a successful working writer. I was impugning writers who write once a month or week, submit their manuscript, and wonder where their paycheck is. (And they are legion, Dylan.) And while your points about traditional publishing are spot on, it it isn't as if there aren't other places we can look to find out what makes other writers successful. Small presses that specifically publish marginalized voices, writers of color making a go of it via non-traditional routes, writers of color who have punched through in traditional publishing--they all say the same thing. Plus, it's not like straight white males get book deals just walking down the street. (This is analogous to the difference between privilege and "being handed everything.") Being a white straight cis male is absolutely an advantage in traditional publishing, but finding one of them who didn't write every day is still difficult (and basically impossible if you're talking about working writers).

Christ even actual SOCIALIST writers, who are far more anti-capitalist than you, say you have to write every day.

This is a particularly important point to make because now that bloggers, self publishers, e-publishers, print-on-demand small presses, and all non traditional writers from those previously silenced groups can circumvent the whitewashed traditional gatekeepers, we STILL see that it is writing every day that separates hobbyists from career writers. The new (and wonderful) ability for these marginalized writers to find their audience and carve out careers has still come from working every day.

I particularly want to make sure that it's clear I never said, "Don't whine if you don't have a career or get a book deal." I said "Don't whine if you don't write every day and don't have a career or get a book deal." I said that if you don't write every day and then don't get a book deal, you won't get sympathy, not that you won't get sympathy if you don't get a book deal under any circumstances whatsoever. The part you left out is actually crucial. If you DO write every day and you don't get a book deal, we can have a very different conversation. Because the difficulties I talk about getting into publishing do include the things you've mentioned but they also, unswervingly, absolutely, unerringly include a dilettante writing commitment.

I'm not laughing at the unpublished who have written every day but are unpublished. I'm chiding (and I'm not sure where you came up with the laughing part, honestly) the writers who don't write every day and are surprised they are yet unpublished. There is a big, big difference. Not a "hair splitting" difference at all.

And not to put too fine a point on it, but I would be "laughing" at myself if that were the case because I have been writing every day for decades, and I am only published in the most technical of senses. Certainly I've never published a book.

Lastly, if my tone when I respond to anonymous hate mail is troubling to you, I'm sure there is writing advice out there being sweeter and kinder (and in fact I often give it when people aren't horrid to me first).

Could I have been nicer? Absolutely! But you may have noticed I can be a little snarky from time to time (a little....maybe). I have never been the soft and gentle "physical trainer" when it comes to people who metaphorically want a ripped Adonis body from being sedentary ("Listen, I know maybe you've heard that you can get great muscle definition from eating corndogs and binging Psych reruns on Netflix, but even though gym membership is a privilege not everyone has, I really think you need to go ahead and do one more rep for me, okay buddy?"). Also, that was about the 100th such letter I've gotten and probably the fifth or sixth that I've answered here at Writing About Writing. I'm entitled to my feelings of sardonic frustration at this aspect of writers' understanding of creativity, and to express them through snarky blogging. I'm not actually TRYING to be some sort of goodwill ambassador to the entitled writers who don't write each day, and who feel the need to be obnoxious to me about it, as if somehow my pointing out that successful writers write every day is what's really holding them back.

Because frankly, being sarcastic helps me. I didn't wake up one day without the incredible fear that I am putting a piece of my soul on display for the world to scrutinize. And if I don't learn to laugh at this kind of anonymous snipe, I'm going to end up in my pillow fort, eating Ben and Jerry's, far too afraid to write. They hurt my feelings. So I fashion my armor out snark and trudge on. But not everyone who consciously, deliberately steps on my toe deserves my kindest response simply because I ought to be diplomatic for the benefit of others listening. Perhaps the more valuable lesson might be to not step on people's toes quite so hard if you don't want to piss them off.

So I think the problem here is two fold. While I absolutely agree with your points about publishing, and have made most of them myself, I think you missed the mark pretty significantly when you tried to tell me what I meant, and further compounded the issue by policing my "misplaced tone."


  1. I'm long past the point of wasting time on teaching moments, so let's put any assumption that my intent was to 'call out' for ideological sport aside. I thought you were wrong. Now that I've read your response, I think you're less wrong, but still a little off the 'writing every day' topic as a whole. This probably a result of my lack of clarity in my original comment.

    To clear a few things up:

    I don't mind snark, or rudeness.

    I don't mind chiding, laughing, or mockery.

    And, while I allowed for the caveat in an effort not to get bogged down, I certainly don't think many people are going to be a successful writer in most understood definitions of those terms without writing everyday or close to it.

    All that said, I don't think the thrust of my concern has been addressed. Chiding people for rudeness or hate mail is acceptable, but I don't think chiding people for not writing everyday and expecting success is. Again, the reality, as I'm sure you know, is that many people will not be able to write everyday. Why deny them any hope of success? Again, I'm not asking you to just take hate mail barrages without retort, and there are plenty of white middle class types that'll complain pretty loudly about not being successful while only occasionally jotting down their ideas. But, were you not able to write every single day for whatever valid, capitalism driven reason, is it possible you might react a little harshly to someone on the internet telling you that your chances of success are virtually zero?

    If we agree that there are people who can't write everyday as a result of factors beyond their control, I think it becomes necessary to add caveats to discussions about writing everyday in every single instance, particularly if you don't know if the person you're discussing is upset because they're upper class, want their laziness validated, and is used to getting what they want, or because they understand that their circumstances grant them little to no shot at success and rather than accept that they'd rather keep on believing that they can do in the limited time to write life's allotted them.

    1. Without getting quagmired in a comment war at the meta level of what points in this post seem to have been talked past, the simplest reason why I would deny someone who doesn't write every day "any hope of success" (unless their hope is, of course, for personal fulfillment, enjoyment, or even publication as I mentioned) is that writing every day is a basic component for career success. It is something that essentially every successful writer agrees on.