Sunday, February 26, 2012

Purveyors of Preciousness

I almost forgot, I mentioned earlier that the comments on my "Origins" post sparked a couple of follow-on thoughts, and I posted one of them here. Then I read a post yesterday about how supportive the writing community is, and it reminded me of the other thought.

My writing origins were distinctly late and shaky, self-conscious and fragile. I don't think I would have carried on this long, certainly not to the point of having a fully-written novel under my belt (OK, publication is still in the mists of fantasy land, but that's another story) without the support and encouragement of other writers.

There's the personal touch of others in my critique groups, many in much the same position, struggling to polish up their creations to be aired in public. Then there are others in the blogging world, the high flyers, with significant publications to their name, who still take the time to come down to ground level and encourage the up-and-comers.

Even industry professionals often blog with advice and support for writers at all levels. There may not be the same personal interaction - these folks have followers in the thousands, after all - but the openness and welcome is the same.

Now, the strange thing is that, in contrast with my unlikely entry into writing, I was practically born with a paintbrush in my hand. Some of my earliest memories are of colouring and drawing. I remember drawing Daleks at the age of three when Dr. Who first aired on British TV.

In later years I read voraciously. It wasn't the writing I tried to emulate, however, it was the cover art.

Throughout my school years, nobody I knew drew or painted like I did. I won the art prize each year, even though I didn't take art as a subject. In retrospect, this probably pissed off the people who were studying it, and I think now it was rather unfair. Some of them were good, certainly more technically accomplished than me, they just weren't doing the kinds of work I was doing.

So imagine my delight and anticipation when I went to university, which drew together talented people from all over the country. There would be other artists there. Good artists. People I could talk to about arty things.

Does this scenario sound familiar to all you budding writers? Maybe those joining a critique group or going to a writing conference for the first time?

The trouble is, I wasn't an artist. I was a mathematician.

The fact that I drew and painted was immaterial. The fact that my friends liked what I was doing probably made it worse. Other artists, "real" artists, were unanimously snide and dismissive. I think they took the view that if a non-artist liked a painting, then clearly it wasn't art, daahhhling.

No. Art had to be obscure, deeply meaningful - but only to a self-selecting elite - and could only, ever, evuh, be done by a member of that same self-selecting elite.

So my dreams of being taken seriously by the artistic community withered. I still draw, I still paint, occasionally, but I long ago stopped trying to be taken seriously by those purveyors of preciousness. Life's too short.

Contrast this with the attitude in the writing world, where a highly respected industry professional, the formidable Janet Reid, renowned for her non-nonsense opinions, can say the following:

Make no mistake about this: if you have written and finished a novel you ARE a writer. Don't let anyone, particularly some snotty so-called publishing professional, demean this achievement. You've written a novel = you're a writer.

That is why I'm still writing.

So, what's been your experience of the writing community? And do you have other communities with which to compare and contrast?


  1. Those words warm your heart.

  2. In school I was always trying to fit into both being a writer and being an artist. I got equal encouragment in both from teachers. However, my parents were adamant that one could not make a living from either thing. After putting both aside for while, painting and drawing where much harder to break back into. Writing, as you found, has a much better base of encouragement and resources. So hello, I'm Jean, and I'm a writer. :)

  3. Hi! I'm visiting from the A to Z Challenge, getting a head start of finding some great new blogs. Nice to meet you! There's something familiar about this blog. I might have come by last year during the challenge. I might even be a follower :) I hope to visit more often because this post really inspired me. I won't go into all the reasons why, because they are many.


  4. Delores, Janet's words lifted my spirits no end.

    Hello Jean, nice to meet you :D Yes, writing may be a tough world, but it is most welcoming.

    Karen, nice to meet you too. I see you're one of the A to Z co-hosts. This is my first time doing the challenge, but maybe you dropped by on some other blogfest. Regardless, I'm glad this post inspired you.

  5. Me either your words warm my heart. thank you for sharing!

  6. I don't have other communities to compare to, but I do know the writing community is a warm and friendly one. I've learned so much from people here - not least that, yes, I am a writer too :-)

  7. Jeremy, you're welcome!

    Lindsey, you said it!

    Sarah, that last bit is the most important to me. This is such an inclusive community.

  8. LOVE the Janet Reid quote! And hey, did you paint/draw the picture @ the top of your blog? I love that hint of the surreal about it. Keep doing what you love!

  9. Writing bloggers are very supportive in most ways. They aren't as good at reading fictional stuff on a post (unless you are in a fiction writing blogfest) as one would think they would be but, oh well...

  10. Heather, Janet comes out with some gems, doesn't she? And, yes, that is my painting at the top of the blog. It's a detail from a larger painting - there are a few more under the "Words and pictures" tab up top.

    Danette, I guess that depends on what you blog or read blogs for. I admit I'm one of those who prefers to read what other writers are up to, rather than their fiction itself.

  11. I thought the argument is that anyone who writes is a writer, but they're only an "author" if the book gets published.

  12. I attended art school, and I found the same elitist attitude in some, not all, the people there. I was a photography major, but I was required to take a year of drawing studio classes. This wasn't my strong suit, but I could hold my own, and some there seemed put out that I'd never had formal instruction. I, like you, have found the opposite to be true in the writing community. They are warm, welcoming, and take their free time to post advice to other writers just starting out. I love this community, and I'm glad you've had the encouragement to keep writing!

  13. I've found the same sort of support from the writing community as you've described. It's especially phenomenal (and heartwarming) to receive support from writers who've already caught the brass ring. But the same sort of support is available in other communities, as well, like in the amateur radio world. We're all nerds, but that's okay, because in the world of amateur radio, nerds are cool.

  14. Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. I mush appreciate it. We are both Brit-expats in the Pacific Northwest--but I don't have my own hedgehog.

    I'm sory your artistic dreams were squelched at university. I hope you don't let the opinions of others squelch your writing dreams.


  15. I also "much" appreciate it, mushy though I may be.

  16. Hey Ian,
    An extremely interesting and provocative article you have submitted. And, rather unusually for me, I'm leaving this comment rather brief. I think I would just echo the over all consensus.
    Now, your artistry comes through in the written word. Personally, I think that whether published or not, aspiring or not, we are all, in our own way, in our own validity, writers.
    I have been encouraged and inspired by writers, notably within the blogging community. However, my writing is just therapy. Then again, that's a good thing. Wishing you much success and joy with your writing, Ian. I have the utmost admiration for such resilience and determination.
    Keep going, embrace that dream and happy writing.

  17. Kimberlee, I've heard that said, too, and it makes sense to me. However I don't think it's a distinction that many writers would agonize over. Most of the folks I see on blogs call themselves writers, published or not, and I don't think anyone would object to an unpublished writer calling themselves an author. I think that's one of the characteristics of an inclusive community - distinctions like that are simply unimportant.

    Adrienne, I think you've hit on something important there - the formal instruction part. The artists at my college were extremely snooty about anyone who didn't have the "right" instruction.

    Susan, it's lovely to hear about the amateur radio world like that. Is that still going? You don't seem to hear much about that these days.

    Michael, thanks for visiting. I've seen several posts recently about exactly this topic, but it was actually your post that nudged me to finish off my thought from two weeks ago and write this one. I'm sorry I didn't give it due credit, but I'd visited so many blogs recently I lost track of it.

    Hi Gary, your comments, long or short, are always welcome :)

  18. Thank you for this post! I've become a follower of your blog, perhaps you'd consider following mine? I've written a fantasy book ( unpublished novel) and am undertaking my next one at the moment. Thank you and great blog!

  19. I suspect your interest in the visual arts shows up in your writing. As a child, I wanted to be an artist but recognized that I didn't have fine motor coordination. In other words, I couldn't draw a straight line. I did, however, take to computer graphics later on.

    When I write I always want to show what I see. People say "too much description." Oh, well.

  20. Martin, thanks for visiting. I'll be sure to check our your blog in due course.

    Carol, I think you are probably right. I get that "too much description" comment a lot too.

  21. If you write you're a writer, and no one can tell you you aren't an artist:)

  22. I like your writing style, I love your sense of humor and I have to be honest I am surprised you felt the need--ever-- to be taken seriously by higher writing powers.. I gave that up in high school when I found out that most of the times kids with less talent got the prize because their dads sponsored the school :). I know some people need recognition in order to go on's a waste of time. Just follow your instinct :). And again I have to say I am in love with your sense of humor ...

  23. Thanks Mark and unikorna. I am comfortable in being both a writer and an artist. It is the difference in attitudes amongst the respective "professionals" that amazes me.


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