So, a lot of people have already weighed in on the brief twitterburst the other day, when Neil Gaiman, in a well-intended tweet encouraging folks to apply to Clarion, made an unfortunate choice of words. The things I’d have said first off have mostly been said. (Disclaimer–I went to Clarion West in 2005 and found it to be a transformative experience. It is, however, not for everyone, not necessarily good for everyone who applies or attends, and not a possible choice for everyone who might want it or benefit from it.)
In the followup to that, though, I’ve seen a few comments about how the original tweet was obviously hyperbole and people were overreacting and mobbing Gaiman and it was just another example of pointless twitter outrage.
So. For starters, Gaiman? Can safely ignore most of what went down on Twitter in the past few days. He stands in a position of amazing privilege on that score (and on several others, but those aren’t at issue right now).
But many of the people speaking out the other day cannot safely ignore Gaiman. His status is such that even casual statements of his carry weight. And writing (at least, writing fiction, at least, among the writers I know, which at this point is a considerable number) is fraught with all sorts of anxieties. I don’t know many writers who aren’t neurotic about their writing in some way, and the rest are probably just hiding it well.
You develop different ways to cope with those anxieties–you have to. You have to have some kind of psychological defense against rejection, and eventually, if you’re lucky, bad reviews. You have to find some way to persevere in the face of constant apparent failure, because it can take years, sometimes decades, from first sitting down to write seriously until your first sale. You have to find some way to continue on in the face of writers who sell in their first couple of years out, who hit big with their first novel, while you’re still typing away with, you think (possibly incorrectly–keyword: neurotic) little to show for it, and what do they have that you don’t?
One of the handiest ways to do this is to assign whatever rejections/bad reviews you can to the Inconsequential bin. “That’s one reviewer, what do they know?” or “That’s just one story hitting one editor at the wrong time.”
There are people (or particular submission situations) that are difficult if not impossible to assign to that bin, though. Your personal heroes. People of very high status in the field. Prestigious publications or workshops. Much, much harder to say those rejections or negative comments mean nothing, when they’re so widely vested with such significance. Any given writer’s cry of protest at one of those doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t take rejection or bad reviews generally, or don’t have the fortitude to deal with life as a writer. It means that this particular situation is beyond the edge of where they can currently pretend it doesn’t matter.
I’m at a place now where I can consign nearly anything to the Insignificant bin. One star reviews at goodreads or amazon? If I happen to see them, they generally make me laugh. On the rare occasion that a negative comment does truly get under my skin, I can dry my tears with the cloth I use to dust my awards, and console myself with a stop for ice cream on the way to the bank to deposit my royalty checks. I can afford to be amused at most things I see, and pay no attention to any of it unless I want to. It would take a disparaging remark from one of my personal heroes to cause any noticeable pain.
Three or four years ago this would not have been the case. Three or four years ago a couple of close-timed rejections could leave me contemplating giving up. And I had it easier than many–my whole family, from when I was small, had encouraged me to write and constantly validated the idea that I could be a writer. I had a degree from a fairly prestigious university and no debt from that degree (because my parents were employees at that university). I grew up speaking a prestige dialect of American English. I had (still have!) a super-supportive husband with a decently-paying job. My children were (and Mithras willing will continue to be) both healthy. I myself have so far been able-bodied, and not in need of much (if any) help or accommodation. And with all that, it was hard.
Imagine if I’d had even more piled on. A family, maybe, who didn’t understand or care about or actively opposed my wanting to write. Bigger financial difficulties. Health problems, or family members who needed my constant attendance and care. What if I lived outside the US?
What if, on top of all of it, a writer I looked up to, with very high status in the field, quite casually said that I NEEDED something to be a writer that I knew I could never have?
Now, Gaiman has no obligation to worry about the emotional states of every new or struggling writer. He can quite easily ignore a day’s cloudburst on twitter. But a lot of struggling or aspiring writers? Can’t ignore him as easily. And by speaking, they send a message to other, silent folks on the sidelines–don’t let this stop you, do your best to put this tweet in your Insignificant bin, keep writing.
This is, by the way, part of the reason I absolutely despise the “discourage aspiring writers, because if they’re really writers they’ll write anyway” thing. Who the fuck is anyone to decide who is or isn’t meant to be a writer, who does or doesn’t want it badly enough? Fuck that. It’s hard enough in the best of circumstances, nobody needs that extra noise. Help where you can, and let people decide for themselves. But that’s a whole other rant, and I have things to do today.