Sunday, August 30, 2009

A little respect, please....

Recently a person approached me to help him with his manuscript. He needed editorial work and wanted to get his book in shape for a publisher. I explained what I do and how I work and how thorough I am, and the success I have had with clients. I love doing this work--love to help other writers, plus it helps me in my own work to figure out what is and isn't working in someone else's work, and why. But when I told him my fees (which are way below the market rate, by the way), he had a fit. "Who the hell do you think you are?" he said. "Both my wife and I are appalled! Your fee is what I make per hour!!"

I was stunned. The message, of course is that what he does is infinitely more important than what I do. Out of curiosity, I asked him what he wanted to pay, and he told me there were many people around who would be willing to read and edit a whole 400 page manuscript and come up with 20 pages of notes for...the price of a great dinner in Manhattan.

Today, I was reading a piece about a 58-year-old man who had lost his job in the financial world and how he was stressing about finding another. My heart was shattering for him, right up until he brightly quipped, "But I can use this time to write a novel!"


Is being a novelist the catch-all job that anyone can do if he or she only had the time? (I once dated a Wall Street guy who insisted he was "going to write that novel" when he had banked enough money and could take a break. Um, he had four million banked. I had a friend who loved the idea of being a writer and told everyone that was her calling, but since she could not sit alone in a room for the hours every day she would need to, the best she did was jot down ideas in a notebook she carried around.) I welcome anyone to the writing party, but am I amiss to want those people to take the job seriously? Do people really not recognize how terrifically hard (and terrifically rewarding) a job it is? Do they imagine we sit at our desks daydreaming happily, waiting for inspiration, and then when it comes, the words pour out of us and we are giddy with delight? I welcome anyone who has the passion and drive and wants to write, but I want the 15 drafts, the angst, the false starts, the desperate, mad need to write--to be understood and to break through this idea that writing is all fun and glamour and a beach house filled with champagne.

Writing is a calling, but it is also a really difficult, exhilarating, grueling, terrifying, wonderful job. I just wish people would treat it that way, rather than something that everyone can take up in spare time like knitting, which, by the way, is not so easy, either.


Elspeth Futcher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elspeth Futcher said...

Caroline; I absolutely and completely agree. This attitude that doing anything creative is easy is rampant. I faced it all the time when I was acting. Everyone (not doing it) said "How hard can it be?" My answer was "Try doing it."

Writing is wonderful and the rush of getting it right is like nothing else on earth. But you pay for the rush with hours (or days) of frustration and self-questioning...or at least I do.

I understand your reaction and admire your self-restraint.


Anonymous said...

In my experience, a writer meets two sorts of people -- those who think they can write a novel and those who are utterly astounded that anyone can string that many words together. Some of the ones who think they can write a novel actually do, and the proof can be found on many supermarket checkout lanes. {Clue, bosoms on the cover will be heaving.)

The idea seems to be that if one can speak and if one can put together a shopping list or a letter to Grandma, then how hard can it be to just do more of that and call it a novel?

They are idiots.

But then, a cursory look at politics indicates to any thoughtful person that idiots abound.

Leora Skolkin-Smith said...

Absolutely needs to be said. Bravo.

Clea Simon said...

Utterly right on, Caroline. Right on.

I have a friend, a painter, who calls such people "instant artists." They see her abstracts and say, "I could do that." Over the years, she's actually made decent money subletting part of her studio to such people. How much real art have they created? Zip.

It's the same with books. It used to bother me when people told me, "Oh, I'm going to write a book too..." Now, I just nod. They'll learn.

Leora Skolkin-Smith said...

Isabel Allende told this great joke once (at one of those writer conference things). She's married to a lawyer and so all his friends are fellow professionals. She goes to a lot of parties, mostly of lawyers, doctors, businessmen, people who definitely have a thriving, recognized profession with a salary and title. And someone who is a neurosurgeon asks her: "So what do you do?" She answers: "I'm a novelist." He says: "Oh, when I retire I plan to write to a novel, too." So she answers: "That's funny. Because when I retire I plan to perform neurosurgery, too."

Clea Simon said...

Great story, Leora!
I think I'm just in a mood today, but I keep coming back to this because I love Caroline's response and all the comments. We do not get any respect and it is disheartening at times. But what else would we do? Nothing.

Leora Skolkin-Smith said...

Yeah, we all love to write, so in the end I guess we could say we're really rich (though that's corny, sorry.)
But, yes, what else would we do?

Jessica Keener said...

Your fee weeded out what would have been a nightmare client. The fact that people know how to type and spell some words does not give them access to great writing. We know that, but that nightmare client doesn't. Good for you for charging what you deserve for your hard work. You are a writer with superb skills in so many areas, that person would have gained far more than the price paid. I'm sure of it.


DebGrabien said...

Oh my stars and teeny little fishes, YES. Not enough yes in the world.

A writer writes. You write because you can't not write. It's one of the reason that self-styled "writing coaches" make my molars grindy: I have yet to come across one of these people who actually has written anything. How can you coach what you can't understand is born in the blood?