Wednesday, September 16, 2009

On The Asking of Favors From Established Writers

It looks like it's time to do a little more head-knocking regarding the life of a writer, so let's just start knocking heads, shall we.
Dear currently unpublished/newbie writers who spend their time bitching about how published/established writers are mean because they won't read your work/introduce you to their agent/give your manuscript to their editor/get you a job on their television show/whatever other thing it is you want them to do for you:
A few things you should know.
1. The job of a writer is to write. So, I'm looking at one of my book contracts. It says that I need to write a certain type of book (science fiction) of a certain length (100,000 words) by a certain time (er… Hmmm). In return, I get paid a certain amount of money. So that's the gig.
Here's what's not in the contract:
1. That I critique the novels of other people;
2. That I offer any advice to people on how to get published;
3. That I arrange introductions to my agent, editor or publisher;
4. That I do any damn thing, in fact, other than write the book I've agreed to write.
The job of a writer is to write.
To which you may say, "Yes, but –" To which I say, you've gone one word too far in that sentence. There is no 'but' involved. Once again: The job of a writer is to write. Anything else a writer does is entirely on his or her free time and subject to his or her own whim.
Commensurate to this:
2. A writer's obligations are not to you. Here is the list of the people and things to which I am obliged, in roughly descending order:
1. My wife and child.
2. My work.
3. My friends and the rest of my family.
4. My editors and producers.
Now, you might notice that you are probably not in that list. You know why? Because you and I don't share a life bond/genetic consanguinity/mutually beneficial business relationship.
Now, as it happens, I also feel an obligation to my various "communities" — the spread-out groups of people who share common interests with me — and one community I think about quite a bit is the community of writers. However, two things here. First, my sense of obligation to the community of writers is both voluntary and rather significantly less compelling to me than the obligations I feel to those enumerated above, and also does not mean I feel obliged to any particular member of that community (i.e., you). Second, there are lots of other writers who may not feel a similar communal obligation.
You may or may not feel this is proper on their part or mine, but so what? It's not up to you. Which brings us to:
3. The person who determines what a writer should do for others is the writer, not you. Why? Well, quite obviously, because it's not your life, and you don't get a say. And if you're somehow under the impression that well, yeah, actually you do have a say in that writer's life, take the following quiz:
Think of your favorite writer. Now, are you:
1. That writer?
2. That writer's spouse (or spousal equivalent)?
3. Rather below that, a member of that writer's immediate family?
4. Rather below that, the writer's editor or boss?
If the answer is "no" to the above, then guess what? You don't get a vote.

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