Thursday, 4 October 2018

Passion, Patience and Pride, A Writer's Guide

There's a lot about living a writer's life that is frustrating.

Endless rewrites, rejections, angst, self-loathing - but not least is the sheer amount of time people take getting back to us!

Publishers are the worst, agents second with editors being marginally faster. The worst response of all - and the reason why the wait can be so hard - is no response at all.

Email has made things worse. I don't know how they do it. I make a point of answering all of my emails.

But I don't understand professionals who simply choose not to respond at all. I regularly send out submissions to agents when I have a book idea. Strike rate? I'm lucky if 30% respond. The others clearly think the delete button or the waste basket are their most effective business tools.

They might be right - for them. But the poor writers who are being ignored, shunned and demeaned by this response surely deserve better. Writers are made to feel sometimes that pride is optional.

The crazy thing is that the 'bigger' the person is - as in the higher up the chain or the more important in an organisation - the MORE likely you are to get a reply. It seems that it's the lowly, the lazy and the arrogantly small-minded that are the worst culprits.

This makes sense to me. It's those that have a greater sense of responsibility for their business that do the right thing. After all, that's probably how they got to be in that job in the first place. Avoiding work or avoiding a relationship with a potential writer is clearly the MO of the loser.

It's okay for most of them. They've got their nice 9 to 5 jobs where all they have to do is keep their heads down, smile at their boss and get on with endless, largely meaningless, paperwork at a speed that seems painfully slow to most writers.

Full time writers like Robyn and I - who in contrast seem to work at what we call 'bullet time' - have to write without artificial securities like regular pay, company pension plans and sick leave. We work for the love of it - with a passion and commitment to art and writing - and yet even we are often made to wait as though we're last in the line for the soup!

Why are writers treated so badly? And with such contempt?

I've always thought it odd that in society we revere successful artists, musicians, actors, writers but regard anyone doing the same who doesn't happen to be successful yet as a bum.

In France at least you're allowed to sign up for unemployment benefit as a poet. But in the UK you're not allowed to write 'musician' as your profession at the dole office. Now that's stupid.

We have this theory that the reason why writers - even in Hollywood- are considered the lowest form of grub life is that there's this resentment over the idea that anyone should be paid for doing what they love. The logic being that a writer would and should be writing anyway - so why do they deserve to get paid?

Last Wednesday night we went to a Writers' Guild seminar where they outlined the pay rates for professional writers right across the board. Their message was clear - it doesn't matter how hard you work, how good you are or who you're working for, the writer is generally regarded as an irritant - a necessary evil - and the first and last to get shafted.

The Guild's talker said the writer's motto should always be: "Trust no-one." This is grim news from a body specifically set up to protect writers' interests - and is based purely on their experience of the way non-writers feel about and treat even professional writers.

As writers we are passionate - and have pride - because writing is the hardest and most important part of the creative process. We know this - and so do non-writers, though they posture and parade as though it's not.

We may have a passion for what we do. Passion is good. Passion is productive and creates results. And we use that passion to create the writing that everyone else feeds off and gets rich by.

But, because of the sad lack of respect we encounter - it's up to all of us individually to work for the good of writers collectively - by having the courage to say NO occasionally.

So the next time you get a dodgy or insulting deal offered to you, don't think, "Well it's just me, what I do doesn't make a difference" - because it does matter. We need to stand together and send out a message to those who would exploit us.

It's about taking responsibility for ourselves as writers.

Because the real reason why writers are so badly exploited by non-writers is because, for all the right and wrong reasons, we often let them do it.

Keep writing!

Rob Parnell's Writing Academy