^^^^Me again. M Harold Page. I do books with swords and tanks in them. And writer memes piss me off.
You know what I mean. Stuff like this that pops up on social media:
If you fall in love with a writer,
They will forget normal things like anniversaries and cooking times
for salmon (which was quite expensive but will turn to sludge, then ash),
But they'll remember the important things,
Like what you wore and how it felt that night
And they'll make you immortal.
Jesus Christ! Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!
Yes. It's all true! But - and you're already thinking this - not in the fluffy emo-hipster singer-songwriter way as pitched by this meme.
Authors forget normal things, not because we are special, but because we are busy and our heads are full, just like anybody else running their own first (or second) business. Worse, we remember the "important" things in order to rip them off.
What you wore? Goes straight in to a fictional character's wardrobe.
How it felt? Well, they do say "write what you know..."
And as for making you immortal? Um. Yes... some of us can - potentially - make you immortal, but at the price of being remembered as "the inspiration for that psycho-ex/sex addicted assassin/tragically frigid lover/useless best friend/drunk guy who dies comically while trying to have sex with a dolphin". Because story hinges on drama.
So you really don't want us to make you immortal.
Perhaps after reading this, you don't want to be around us either. It's true, writers mine our own life experience ruthlessly, and when that fails, we lift a chunk of yours. (Despite being a loud extrovert, I have also learned to be a good and active listener. I'll let you join the dots.) Don't worry, though, because we usually mash up what we learn, if not for ethical and legal reasons, then for literary ones; To turn it into interesting fiction, your life experience needs added dolphin sex.
Memes like this seem all about projecting and claiming a certain wrong-headed image of what a writer is.
The same goes for most of the inspiring quotes that do the rounds (e.g. here).
Granted, some are clearly useful for aspiring writers, for example Terry Pratchett saying, "The first draft is just you telling the story to yourself" (but as author Robert Bevan points out, wouldn't the wannabes who produce them be better spending their time writing than messing with Photoshop?)
However, most seem to be optimised for maximum angst-wafting. For example, this one from Orhan Panmuk:
A writer is someone who spends years patiently trying to discover the second being inside him, and the world that makes him who he is.
Can you see the latter-day beatniks all nodding into their flat whites and going, "Profound, dude!" none of them actually knowing what the hell this quote means?
Mr Panmuk, of course, is a literary author, but not the poser this quote makes him out to be. He very much walks the walk, writes novels, wins (real) awards. The full quote is:
A writer is someone who spends years patiently trying to discover the second being inside him, and the world that makes him who he is: when I speak of writing, what comes first to my mind is not a novel, a poem, or literary tradition, it is a person who shuts himself up in a room, sits down at a table, and alone, turns inward; amid its shadows, he builds a new world with words.
Yes, it's a flowery way of putting it, but note the bit about shutting yourself up in a room and doing the damn work. The cherry-picked pseudo-Koan quote is out of context. Other quotes don't even have a source - "Writing is my addiction. Books are the song of the spheres." They're all really saying, "Look at me! Look at me and my lit-er-ary prooooocess. I could make you immortal you know. Shall I take off my smoking jacket. (What was your name again?)" They also emphasise the self-indulgent psychological journey over the hard graft for which we deserve to be paid.
Finally, we come to the "Aren't we writers weird (chortle)?" memes.
It's quite reasonable for specialised hobbies and professions to joke about what we do. Yarn folk and HEMA types do it too, "That moment when you take the wrong bag to the tournament and spend the day knitting instead." So, that meme about browser history? Yeah - Jesus! - don't look at mine either. And I too tell lies for money. But to outsiders, most of these "My cat helps me procrastinate while buying too many books" memes and the "Woe-is-me" variants, such as that bloody De Niro quote, just look like showing off. Worse, they feed the idea that authors are all weird in some way.
For a start, most professional authors are demonstrably not weird.
Living in Edinburgh, I know a fair few writers to talk to, and most of them are pretty ordinary middle aged folk who spend a lot of time at a screen. Some of us belong to weird-to-outsiders sub cultures - gamers, sword folk, bikers, tech-heads - but then we're weird because of the subculture, not our writing. Like most vocations, ours requires drive and self-discipline, so there's not really much room for scotch-bottle-wielding craziness in our day-to-day routine. And if our conversation is sometimes... specialised, it's no different than if you listened in to some microbrewers talking shop... and our specialism is where the books come from, the books people read, which leads us to...
By definition, professional authors can't possibly be all that weird because people read us. If books with minimal connection to modern reality were what sold, then Sumerian creation myths would top the charts.
OK. Yes. I have above the average number of swords in my flat for my particular demographic. And yes, a friend somewhat harshly pointed out that most of my Facebook posts related to killing: Wow look at this tank! (Comment: Killing) Nice sword! (Comment: Killing) Here's a good interpretation of an ancient martial art! (Comment: Killing again) Battle anniversary! (Comment: Killing)
But, people buy my books and even give them nice reviews. So that stuff in my head must find at least an echo in your head. It's no different from being a rock guitarist and living and breathing guitars and guitar riffs.
So, most writer memes originate in somebody showing off in a wrong-headed way. That makes them annoying in their own right. I also worry that they offer toxic scripts to aspiring authors: If you want to write, cultivate an inability to fit in and spend a lot of time very publically crying over your iBook in boutique coffee shops. Oh and bore your friends by boasting about it. However, that's not quite what pisses me off about them.
The real problem is that as these self-aggrandising special-magic-snowflake-angsty-outsider writer memes pile up, people are going to start to thinking that all authors are self-entitled posers.
This is bloody annoying on a social level when somebody asks what I do. Thanks to the confusion wrought by the self-publishing boom, it already takes a conversational dance to knock the finger-quotes off the word author. Now not only do I have to establish, no really I do this for a living, I also have to somehow do so without making people think I'm going to rant about how the cats hairs sometimes stick to the moleskin notebook I always carry with me in case I am transfixed by an idea. Note that this is not about establishing my status as the local shaman, it's just about being taken seriously as an adult.
I suspect that these memes are going to become even more bloody annoying for the profession as a whole. If people regard authors as privileged assholes who waft around in a cloud of masturbatory angst, if the underlying feeling about authors is one of hostility, then they will feel less and less inclined to actually pay for our work.
And work it is.
Even if authors did the imagination bit for free - it is gloriously exhilarating, I do love writing - there's still the task of making it readable, and the grind of snagging all the typos. And there's the admin around publishing or indy publishing, and the complexities of being self-employed. If we were paid just for editing and admin, most of us would still get a pretty lousy hourly rate. We don't want pity - we choose to pursue our vocations - but, just like microbrewers, craft bakers, chefs, musicians and anybody else trying to professionalise a passion - we do want to be treated fairly by those we serve.
So please ignore and don't repost those damned "being a writer makes me special" memes.
M Harold Page is the sword-wielding author of books like Swords vs Tanks (Charles Stross: "Holy ****!") and is planning some more historical fiction. For his take on writing, read Storyteller Tools: Outline from vision to finished novel without losing the magic (Ken MacLeod: "...very useful in getting from ideas etc to plot and story." Hannu Rajaniemi: "...find myself to coming back to [this] book in the early stages.")