You're a writer and nobody really cares*

There was no way to prove — actually prove, really prove — that that man was me. The story was familiar — I knew I had written it — but that name on the paper still was not me. It was a symbol, a name. It was alien. And then I realised that even if I did become successful at writing, it would never mean a thing to me, because I couldn’t identify myself with that name. It would be soot and ashes. So I didn’t write any more. I was never sure, anyway, that the stories I had in my desk a few days later were mine, though I remembered typing them. There was always that gap of proof. That gap between doing and having done.

— Ray Bradbury: “No Particular Night or Morning” (from The Illustrated Man)

Look: that’s Bradbury nailing what writing’s really about. The doubt you feel; the doubts you share. It’s Bradbury on the middle-point of a novel you started, a short story you sacked off, a poem you thought was going somewhere. For me, it’s that exact reason you stop writing a work in progress. The loathing and the loss of confidence.

But your parents don’t really care that you’re writing. Pay your bills and manufacture some handsome grandchildren — that’s what they care about.

Want to be a writer? All the advice points to writing hard and often. To be a good writer, you have to write hard to get good. Write, write, and write some more.

But you know that.

And your girlfriend, she doesn’t really care how you do it. She wants you to put the laptop down. Wash up and kiss her hair.

So, right, you remember things. You remember how writing’s the practical part — the practiseable part, the verb — then  really what makes the difference between a good writer and a failing one is knowing when you’ve finished.

And me, I don’t ever know. Chances are, you don’t either.

But your friends don’t really care much about your hobby or the sediment it puts in your guts. Their eyes go all glassy, don’t they? Did you notice that? That’s because you’re playing out. You’re having a beer — not telling them about the way your weirdo main character get weirder all the while.

Then there’s the parable about the man who rewrote his novel every year till he died. Never content, he trimmed and pruned and tweaked and shaved. And never, ever, was he happy. He’d send it round Jupiter and back, that bloody manuscript of his, and still he’d hack it to bits. And that’s you, isn’t it? You keep doing that to your novel as well. That’s why you haven’t subbed it for a month or six.

Only your writer friends, well they’re more arsed about their own characters, flailing through their blank pages without a full stop to hang off. They’d sooner their own stuff come out than yours. That’s the beast — you’re the lamb — now clear off. Competition, if you’re going to be honest. Oh give over, you’re thinking now. You love your friends winning book deals.

Well, that’s because you’re lovely. That’s because they’re your friends.

But come on. Writers don’t write books in teams. We’re selfish, us writers. Taking all that time to peck at the keys; to wake up in the night and wake our partners to write in notepads by lamplight. We’re bastards, some of us. We ask the wrong questions to dig out the truths.

Some of us.

(I like friends getting book deals)

And there’s never enough time, is there? Never enough time. In from work, out of clothes, on to the settee. Making time where there is none. Your brain always on it. In the shower, taking a dump. You can’t stop thinking about that scene; that scene and that death; that plot hole and that cliche.

But your employer doesn’t give two figs about the novel you’re writing.

Nobody really does.

So how do you do it? How do you make anybody care?

It took me till this week to realise. To realise that nobody really gives a shit about your writing till they’ve gone to bed to read it. That’s when they care. And their questions come later. Their attention comes later. Their compliments if you’re lucky.

And till then, well. We’ve got all these blog posts we writers write for each other.

So keep trucking.

*Yet.

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22 thoughts on “You're a writer and nobody really cares*

  1. Matt,

    As an advertising and marketing writer, I have a real aversion to the abhorrent asterisk, the cursed caveat.

    But I’m so glad you stuck it at the end of your headline and qualified it so succinctly.

    My wife cares deeply that I write. After all, she knows I was a p!ss poor electronic engineer and that writing is the best means to keep this particular household together.

    Good job it’s the best thing in the world.

    Love the post BTW – especially the bit about thinking of plots whilst going through the motions! 17 chapters into a rambling oop-north based escapade, I know exactly what you mean. The wife cares I carry on with that too because it’s the only only thing that will prevent marketing asterisks from tipping me over the edge.

    All the best.

    • –Larner

      Thanks for bobbing along. I’m a copywriter, too, so I know it’s kind of bad form. But it was a bit too blunt a headline to not have the caveat, so I went with it.

      You’re right, of course, because I earn my keep as a day-time copywriter and wouldn’t make rent – or much of a boyfriend – without that net. But I think this post was also squarely aimed at me, myself, and I. Mainly because I’m writing fiction (also adventures set in the North) on the snide, and especially because I’m learning when and when not to mention it.

    • –DJ

      Hey, stranger!

      I did think I’d covered that with this: ‘And till then, well. We’ve got all these blog posts we writers write for each other,’ and the bit about lovely writers being friends.

      But aside from the lovely folk you meet (and there are many, as you know) I’ve also met and spoken to a more who genuinely don’t care about other writers. Honest.

      I don’t like that, of course. But it’s essentially a very individualistic profession, and there are lots of egos.

      I’m glad I popped mine early :)

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention You're a writer and nobody really cares* | Matthew Hill's website -- Topsy.com

  3. Oh, enough with your asterisk snobbery. Do what I do and inform people that you’re blazing a new trail in copywriting. I generally have a few smart arguments ready about how we absolutely don’t want to do that tired old thing any more (but if the client insists, I revise… CHICKEN).

    Anyway, just stopped by to say I loved the post & tweeted it.

  4. Well said (OK then, well written)

    You know what’s bad about being a writer?
    Every writer identifies with Bradbury’s angst.
    You what’s good about being a writer?
    Every one of us gets Woody Allen.

    Mike

    • –Michael

      I’m too young for Allen. I’m waiting till I’m past my twenties, and then he’s go go go.

      The guy I quoted in that Bradbury story winds up blasting himself into space. Really sad.

  5. I’m not sure if this makes me feel better or worse. No, it makes me feel better. I got a huge insight from your words: The swill of self-loathing I’m drinking right now is normal. And is directly correlated with being smack in the middle of a first draft. The sooner I can write my way out of it, the sooner it will recede, right? RIGHT?

    • –Rebecca

      Right. I’m halfway through a first-draft, and the only way out of the grim hole is finishing it. And then believing that you wrote it. And then moving on to something else.

  6. I agree with writers not being sporting team players, but that also means that they are sort of like a one man army. Jealousy is only natural, when you see a writer friend who you think is inferior to you get some success. It’s true in any profession.

    Also, if the other writer is better than you, and you know it, even then it’s sort of frustrating because you still feel jealous, not of his success but his writing prowess. Here’s a quote by Orhan Pamuk:-

    “To read a dense, deep passage in a novel, to enter into that world and believe it to be true – nothing makes me happier, nothing binds me more to life. I also prefer it if the writer is dead, because then there is no little cloud of jealousy to darken my admiration. The older I get, the more convinced I am that the best books are by dead writers. ”

    Anyways, Matt, it was nice coming to your blog. Keep it going.

  7. I want to print this out and tack it over my desk. Right now, you’re going in my bookmarks.

    This will be good for when I feel like getting up and telling someone about what I’m writing instead of, you know, actually writing it, which seems to be so much harder.

    • –Sameer

      Lovely quote, that. And so true. In fact I hardly buy any new books for pretty much this exact reasoning. Says something about me more than them, I guess. Thanks for saying hello!

      –Johanna

      You’ll ruin your wallpaper if you put me or any of this crap anywhere near it. I need to take my own medicine, of course. If prompted, I’ll run my mouth all day long.

  8. I write because I have to. But it’s really, really satisfying when someone writes me a note to day my novel made them laugh out loud or my blog post made them think.

    No one does care except me, but I’ve finally become mature enough that that will suffice.

    Thanks for the post.

    • You’re welcome! And it’s pretty satisfying to get comments like this one, Geoff. So thanks for saying so.

  9. I think I said it on another post of yours, but we do seem to have very similar writing experience and backgrounds.

    Everything you said here rings true (although I may have to excuse my girlfriend who in reality has probably read my novel several times over in one way or another). No one cares really, and like you I’ve come to accept and understand it.

    What these people actually care about is you/us the person. You’re a writer? Great. Fine. Whatevs. Just don’t get hit by a bus. I’d miss you terribly.

  10. LOVE THIS. My best friends show no interest in my nonfiction books – certainly not while I’m writing (“What are you working on? Oh, really? Did I tell you my cat has a hernia?”), and not even when the books are first published, all shiny and new and exciting. They could NOT care less. They will accept a free copy, but won’t buy one. I don’t understand how someone who supposedly cares about you can show zero interest your books, which represent months and months of your blood, sweat, tears, and best thinking. (By the way, the books are all interesting – I do collaborations with smart people, so they are much better than anything I could come up with on my own.)

  11. –Iain

    We definitely do have similar backgrounds/experiences. I still need to listen to your podcast about copywriting/fiction writing as I’m pretty sure I’d identify with it.

    I should also excuse my lady — the examples here were extreme really, and more illustrative than my actual experiences. She’s likewise read all the stuff I write, but there has to be a distinction between relaxing together and blathering on at her about this character and that. And this wouldn’t be a resonant post if I went on about how lucky I am to have that support. But still. Significant others play significant roles in these processes, and maybe that’s something I’ll touch on in a future post.

    So, you’re spot on. We’re people and that’s why we’re loved — not because we ferret ourselves away and get moody about the telly being on loud.

    Thanks for saying hello again :)

    –Nellie

    YOU need some new pals!

    But no, I jest. But one of my very best friends just doesn’t read at all, and will doubtless never read anything I produce. I don’t begrudge him that — I just go drinking with him instead. It’s another way to keep the feet on the ground. Horses for courses, and all that.

  12. Strangely encouraging for us contrary bastards (known collectively as writers).

    My partner’s a writer too and although we’ll take the time to try and work through specific plotting and research problems, we more or less leave one another alone to do the actual hard work of writing. My friends are writers, who chat to me constantly about their latest projects. We talk for hours about them – and I couldn’t tell you a single specific about any of them. I’ve got my own plots and characters to worry about after all!

  13. It’s so nice to read that other authors think what I’ve suspected all along, that we’re all just sort of shouting into the void and most people don’t give a crap what we say. But it still needs to be said. Maybe that’s harsh, but I really enjoyed reading your post. Thanks. :)

    *Psssst. I’m also nice and like when my friends get book deals.

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