“Writing fiction is...about passion and endurance, a combination of desire and grunt work often at odds with each other.”
Maureen Howard

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

NaNoEffects: Writer, Meet Non-Writer
Tue 2008-12-02 21:52:42 (in context)
  • 51,704 words (if poetry, lines) long

Met Ellen and Lady T for lunch today at Saxy's. Wrote. Inserted a new small something into the current Rocket-and-Timothy scene (the one where I left off Nov 30). That being, "Don't just have Timothy say that 'I'm better and quicker at this teleporting thing now.' Have him demonstrate it. This will both terrify and impress Rocket--but it will not change his mind." Ooh, more contradictions!

Anyway, we gently bothered the couple sitting beside us to pass my power cord under their table and plug it in for us. This was followed by my usual explanation for why I keep a 6-plug power outlet with me at all times; because often, and especially during November, I am in cafes with limited outlet availablity in company with several writers-with-laptops. The couple sitting at the table next to us were impressed, or curious, or something, and so we got to talking.

Confession: I don't have too many "clueless non-writers say the darndest things!" examples. Many writers have them, but I have been blessed with supportive family, lots of writer friends, and a laptop-cafe culture. When I whip out my laptop in a restaurant, I get mistaken for a college student, which occupation is much more widely understood. I don't typically get inundated with "What are you working on?" style questions followed by clueless assertions about my answer.

I have a few examples. They're pretty mild.

Example the first: I recall my former boss telling me over lunch that, whatever novel I was currently working on, I should try to get it published by Random House, because they publish good books. I said, "But I'm not sure this will be suited for Random House." (In fact, I was thinking Tor would be a better first choice. Or simply seeking an agent who works with urban fantasies, and letting them make that decision.) He said that I should try Random House anyway. What could it hurt? I might even get published by them! ...Now, I've received my share of "not suitable for this market" rejection letters, and those from markets I actually consciously concluded were suitable matches. Their opinion differed from mine on that subject, but not for lack of my trying. Sometimes you just miss. But at least you're trying to hit the dartboard, not just flinging missiles at random vertical surfaces! But, I suppose, to someone who has not made a study of the industry, there are simply publishers who publish good stuff and those who do not. I think he intended to pay me a compliment by suggesting that my work was good enough for a publisher he admired. Sweet, but rather baseless if so; he hadn't actually read my writing.

(Herein lies a rant about "if you think I'm easily pleased enough to accept baseless flattery as a compliment, you're not complimenting me; you're insulting my intelligence!" But that is not the topic for today.)

Another example: Once upon a time at the bar at Gunther Toody's (the one on middle Wadsworth in Denver, possibly no longer extant), I pulled out my spiral notebook and began a fifteen minute writing exercise on the topic "I am looking at." Restaurants are a great place for these, because there's a lot to look at. Furnishing, bric-a-brac, customers, oh my. Anyhoo, some of them customers came up to sit near me, and one asked, "What are you writing? A book?" I didn't feel the need to discuss, so I gave a curt little Yeah, sure, whatever. "Can I read it?" Er, sure. Once it's published. I kept scribbling. This was really par for the course. What made my jaw drop was the man responding with, "Well, I'm a publisher!" What the hell do you say to that? Indeed you are, my dear, and I'm Agatha Christie! I think what I actually said was Then you can read it when it's finished.

So much for my limited repertoire of Clueless Non-writers Say The Darndest Things anecdotes. I actually have more Clueless Writers Say... anecdotes than otherwise, strangely enough. Among them is the oft-cited "But if writing is your life, it isn't really work, is it?" Yes. Yes, it bloody well is. "Oh! I'm sorry to hear that you consider it work. But I have to ask, though, if that's the case, do you really consider writing to be your calling?"

This year's NaNoWriMo added to my anecdote stash admirably! Because here's the thing with NaNoWriMo: You write in public places a lot, and you do it in groups. And so you print out a "National Novel Writing Month Write-In" table tent so that other participants who may not recognize your face can find you. And this means explaining to non-participants what the words on your table tent mean.

Generic Conversation While Waiting For Write-In Quorum:

Me: "National Novel Writing Month is an annual challenge: Write a story of minimum length of fifty thousand words in thirty days."

Them: [Expressions of awe at this feat, followed by] "So you're a writer?" [Followed by inquiries as to subject matter, followed by Clueless Non-writers Say The Darndest Things! anecdote.total++]

Probably the silliest to date had been some disjointed conversations after sharing my table in the Twisted Pine. Silly, but not surprising. "Is your novel fiction?" showed up, as did, "There, you hear that? [referring to some conversation with her friends] You should put that in your novel!" I should be keeping track on a BINGO card.

But today... You know, I'm really not sure where today's conversation falls. Non-writer, or writer? Depends on why the man in Saxy's asked me what he asked me...

Conversation with table-neighbor at Saxy's:

Him: "So do you write for yourself, or do you write to be published?"

Me: "Well... I write. And then sometimes I try to publish the results."

Him: "But do you do one more than the other? Or at the same time? Or..."

Me: "At the same time, certainly. All my fiction begins as something I write for myself. Otherwise it's no good; it doesn't get finished or polished or sent out."

Him: "But, don't you sometimes just give the audience what they want?"

Me, getting bewildered: "No, not really--if I wasn't personally interested in it, the results wouldn't be good enough to give them what they want, see? It wouldn't be any good."

Him: "Not necessarily. They might not have the intelligence to see that or to want better."

At this point Ellen saved me by mentioning her technical writing, which reminded me that "Oh, well, I guess you could say I 'give the audience what they want' with my freelance gigs, where I'm contracted to write on a certain topic that may or may not be of interest to me, and I do it.... But never in my fiction."

I suspect he left unconvinced. And I was left to wonder: is he a generic salesman mistaking writing for an industry akin to sales (he was clearly a real estate or apartment lease broker, judging by the cell phone conversations none of us could help but overhear)? Is he someone who simply misunderstands the entertainment industry? Or is he perhaps nursing dreams of busting out as a novelist, and he wants to hear that it's as easy as "giv[ing] the audience what they want"?

The one thing I clearly got from that conversation was a clear and distinct contempt for the consumer. And, hey, having worked in customer service, I can share that contempt in very specific anecdote format. I have some war stories, boy. But contempt for the consumer as a business model? Bad, bad, bad bad bad wrong. Worse still when I hear it from the mouths of fellow writers! Ick ick ickity ick! Add to the "ick" factor the implied assumption that I should share this contempt--ew! I... I need to go wash my soul off. With anti-bacterial scrub, chlorine bleach, and vinegar.

And that's all I have to say about that.


For now, anyway.