Thursday, May 14, 2009

What do you identify with?

Last week literary agent Nathan Bransford blogged about writers who get too tied up with writing being their identity. I don't really understand the purpose of his original post (it has since been edited to say 'don't let the publishing process define you') apart from the fact that it is unpleasant when writers spam you, send you angry emails and phone calls and generally demonise agents and the publishing industry. However, he did bring up a couple of points that I found interesting and, immediately upon reading them, offensive.
1. Is writing a hobby? While he has retracted this somewhat, in his original post he likens writing to a hobby such as stamp collecting. I am sure that loads of people write as a past time but just because you do something in your spare time doesn't mean it is a hobby. Writing demands a lot of time and input, even when you are not sitting in front of the computer typing out words, and to improve your writing you have to put in a lot of hours. If you want to get your work published - and change your writing status from 'hobby' to professional - you have to work hard at honing your craft, editing your work and sending it out, which all takes time and effort. At one time all authors were in the hobby category. I wonder if they had thought of it as such would they have ever got published?
2. The second point that caught my interest was his distrust of people who claim that 'writing is more important than oxygen.' Now, I don't know if I've ever used that phrase, but I know that I need to write. Whether anyone reads what I write or not, whether I get paid for my work or not, it doesn't matter. I have to write. The same way I have to draw and act. I need a creative outlet. If I don't, then it bottles up inside me and I don't feel right. From talking to other creative people, I know they feel the same way. It doesn't make me special, it isn't a virtue, it is just the way I am. I'm sure other people have to sing to keep an even keel or play sports. Does it make me sound over dramatic when I say I have to write? Is it something I would put in a query letter? No, because when you are contacting an agent it is for a business relationship and I don't think it has a place in a business letter. Do I expect my agent to understand my need to write? Most definitely. I would expect anyone who deals with creative people to understand their need to create and, at times their pretension about it. Understand and accept and help keep grounded in a business sense, not request that it be placed in a hermetically sealed metal box.
My point is, writing is a creative art. It requires part of your soul. It is part of your identity (part, not whole) and it is personal. However, it doesn't mean you can't distance yourself from your work, put your business hat on when needed, take criticism and behave professionally. Every creative profession is the same. I don't believe if you could separate it from you and put it away neatly that any great works of art would ever have been produced.
What do you think? What makes up your identity? Can you separate parts of your life that mean a lot to you and keep them strictly professional, be they job, relationships or hobby? Do we need to contact Mr Spock for some Vulcan advice on how to suppress our emotions?


G. Coppard said...

1. Technically, hobby is the right word for what most of us do. says – “an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation and not as a main occupation.” Not all of us, but perhaps nearly all of us have main gigs that really support us, pay our bills, etc. So, from that standpoint, he’s right. It’s slippery though, because if you want to MAKE it your main profession, even though you’re shoveling fish-guts during the week, is it still a hobby? It was just a rude thing to say and not necessary.

2. The second part is a tough one for me as well. To say he doesn’t trust them? Well trust them to do what, to meet deadlines, to produce good work, to send their agent Ethiopian coffee during the holidays? Sounds like this guy, maybe, has had some bad experiences and maybe he’s just saying that folks with too much enthusiasm are maybe hiding a lack somewhere else. I know that when I interview a prospective employee, if they seem too needy, too desperate to get the job, the move down the list. But if they seem calm, professional and that the job is not a do-or-die for them, they go the opposite direction. It’s an attitude thing.

I didn’t start writing this to defend this guy. But it’s quite possible that if we jogged around in his shoes we’d understand and even appreciate his comments here. His job is to find good work and sell it to a lot of people. It’s not glamorous or about creative writing or creating from your soul. It’s pretty hard-core and I have to respect anyone who’s willing to do that for a living. I know I couldn’t.

As far as your question about keeping things strictly professional… no effin’ way. Can’t do it. Not in my blood. Whether it be banking, writing, walking down the street, buying low fat milk… whatever. I’m always, always full of my emotional side.

And I like it that way, thank you very much.



P.S. - Sorry this is way too long.

Shadowthorne said...

Writing IS a kind of hobby for me. But I think that 'oxygen' thing is also too much.

Writing should be fun. Some people write to amuse others. I write to amuse myself or just practicing with my poor English.

I used to cry while writing this one particular short story because I am killing a character which was an essence of me (one of my imaginary twin). It was a very stressful experience and I never do it again - because was (and still is) a part of me.

Fortunately imaginary characters can resurrect themselves after a tragic death.

My point is, you stamp your personality in your writing. You can make it better, or just change the way you write for say, a breath of fresh air. But to go against your nature do have consequences. You might not like what you write.

Look into yourself to identify you. [I am one huge black hearted reptile, and maybe a blood thirsty overlord in previous incarnation) :)

SSQuo said...

1. GC makes a good point in terms of the hobby bit. I think however the definition is too concrete with no gray area. Hobby is a gray area, for e.g. some may do it to relax them, but at the same time if they don't do it, its fine, and then on the other hand, there are some who HAVE to do it and will miss it if they dont.

2. Without oxygen you wont be able to write! Sorry Nathan we must part ways there. :) I agree with you, the want, need to write is accurate irrespective of after effects (remuneration, or credit or praise)

Over the years, I have learned to both separate my work and personal life and then again merge the two. For e.g. I used get affected by very small things, just coz I think Im over sensitive. Now, I am SO much better, I am able to not let work overtake my life. I dont have to check my email on the weekends, and Im fine to check it on Monday morning.

On the other hand, I was also a slightly different personality at work, OK not a Ms. Hyde, but you know, there were things about me that were private. Ah thats the word, private! I chose to be more private. I still am private, but I have opened up a little more. I am OK for my two worlds to collide a bit. I am more comfortable with myself now and I wonder why I wasn't like that before. Then again, this is precisely why, coz I made a journey from SSQUO then and Now, and while the values are the same, the journey has made me better!

MINATOR said...

cool blog... Keep it coming...

Anonymous said...

writing IS a hobby if you don't earn all or a sizable part of your income from it - but what's wrong with having a hobby? It doesn't mean we can't express ourselves and get satisfaction from it, and in the future we can turn our hobby into our main occupation great.

I don't thing we should feel the need to identify ourselves as writers, parent, husband, wife, lover, sister, brother son etc etc should be equally important.

Long live hobbies - don't knock them - ENJOY THEM.

Anonymous said...

Inky, I think what the "oxygen" comment was addressing, more than anything, was obsession. Or hyperbole of the highest order.

If I were to say that I need my wife more than oxygen, or my cat more than oxygen, or my motorcycle more than oxygen, you'd quite rightly believe I'd lost my bloody mind.

So in that respect, he's right. People who go to that length to describe their obsession are off a little and should be regarded as such.

That in no way says that having a need to write, to be creative is at all bad. In and of itself, it's a wonderful thing. But, like most things in life, balance is the key. And people who need (fill in the blank) more than oxygen lack that balance.

Just my tuppence.

DNOTY2007 said...

I think for many people writing is a hobby, one that they enjoy but never mean to do more than entertain family and friends. For other people, it means an awful lot more, even before you get published. If it were just a hobby, you would not go through the grief of rejections or the agony of submitting.

While it is over the top to say you need writing more than oxygen, the urge to write can be very compelling. I used to have a physical itch in my arm to grab a pen and piece of paper in my younger days. The laptop still calls to me at times!

Anonymous said...

Certainly I identify myself as a writer. But I also identify myself as a mother, as a gamer, as a member of my community, etc. If I'm not writing, I'm not living my life to the best of my ability. I'm missing out! I've let my standard of living become subpar. I'd feel the same way if I chucked the other things that I love. They're loves, not just hobbies.

That said, I had this person email me who went on and on about writing this, submitting here, and his desperation was just painful! It's like what ying-ko-4 said: it's a bit off. Writing all of the time sounds lovely, but if you're absolutely fixated and are scribbling on the walls of your home, you've crossed over into the "psychotic" area of your personality. Balance is crucial.