I went to the opening of the Emerging Writers' (note apostrophe)
Festival in Melbourne last week because it was free and I was there and, hey, I harbour delusions of authorial greatness just like everybody else. It left me feeling oddly disturbed, as most things Writing (note capitalisation)
related do. I particularly noted the insistent emphasis on money, writing for money, even if the reality of economics means it's not very much money. A little leaflet for their Pen Pal
program was left on every single seat in the room, plus a spruik in the intro to the panel discussion - support your very own struggling writer for $75! They must be paid! We take that very seriously here!
I thought - a writer themselves could probably afford $75. And what goes around comes around, right? So maybe your little act of philanthropy will help buy you into writing, paid writing. How economically incestuous, I thought, worried about the direction this panel discussion was going to go.
Genres were mentioned in the panel discussion briefly, in that way people talk about them when they are obviously prejudiced against them but don't want to appear impolitic in public. None of the panellists were genre authors, but there is a session or two about genres in the festival proper. All the panellists had stories about their struggles; the struggle to get published, the struggle to get your book out there and talked about when superstar authors hog the marketing department's attention when your book is released, the struggle to stay in print. But they all seemed to agree that self-publishing is harder than traditional publishing.
This is the second ever writers' (note apostrophe)
festival I have been to, but I am spotting a consistent trend - nobody ever, ever
talks about fanfiction.
If, as the panellists and most people who have ever written anything for the joy of it seem to agree, writing is more of an urge, a compulsion, something done regardless of a mystical and far-off future paycheck; if it's not about the money, what is it about, then?
Recognition, said the panel. Getting emails from perfect strangers who've read your work and have to tell you how great they thought it was.
Well whoop-de-doo, you don't have to get published in the "your words on paper" sense to get that. If you want to write things to delight or intrigue or generally get a response from people who care enough to tell you they care, don't forget fanfiction.
The point I would really like to get across is this -
Why are we so bloody intent on professionalising an otherwise pleasurable activity? Why perpetuate the myth that writing is no good unless there's a paycheck on the horizon? Why not just admit that in writing, as in sport and art and music and so many other fields of human endeavour that don't immediately relate to the supply of water, food, oxygen and shelter, there are far more people participating than can fit in the professional ranks of that field. Why can't we treat writing more like sport, where you can play to win regardless of your ability or the amount of effort you can spare to participate, and society doesn't feel compelled to make you feel like a failure just because you don't get paid to do it?
Please, people - society - anyone - everyone
: get over this obsession with career, work, employment, the monetarisation of absolutely bloody everything. Stop stuffing around with a perfectly good activity and get over that archaic "time is money" worldview that gives yet another generation of smart, literate people a bunch of useless neuroses and a lingering sense of doomed failure and worthlessness. If we embrace the joy of writing and let go of the stupid heartache of professionalising it, maybe we can create more, write more from the heart, make more objects of joy and affection, more brilliant ideas committed to words, and make the world a better and nicer place to be.