Are published writers necessarily better writers than those who are unpublished?
I was talking about writing to a distant family member today. I told her I'm a writer and gave her a brief run-down of what kind of things I write for a living. I also told her I'm writing a book. At this point she became somewhat more animated. "Oh, you're a proper writer then," she said.
A proper writer? I'm not quite sure what she meant by that and even though I queried the comment, an explanation wasn't forthcoming. I settled down with the belief that she didn't quite understand what she meant herself. Then came the next question: "So where can I find one of your books?"
"Err... on my computer."
Ahhh... right. In that case I'm not a 'proper' writer, after all.
I asked her whether 'proper' meant 'better' but after a lot of humming and haaing, I didn't actually receive an answer.
"What I mean is if you were any good then surely you'd be published?"
Hold on. I am published. I've had articles published. Doesn't that count? Well... not really. They're not the same as a novel, are they? Anybody can write an article. Ah. That old chestnut again.
Which reminds me of somebody else. This person was complaining about being out of work and that the only jobs she could get were so badly paid that it wasn't worth her while taking them (child minding costs, clothing allowance, travel expenses etc., would leave her no better off). After an hour of listening to her complaints, she asked how my work was going. I told her about a few recent projects and also mentioned that I'm currently writing a book aimed at Mills & Boon.
"Oh, but they're not proper books."
"No? What are they then?"
"Fairy stories for chav women. Anybody can write them."
First I was aghast that she thought Mills & Boon had specifically aimed for the 'chav' market, and secondly, I pointed out that if anybody could write them, why didn't she write one and make some money that way instead of complaining about being out of work.
But no, she couldn't do that because writing doesn't interest her, although if she'd wanted to she could write one easily.
Who I am to say she's not right? Maybe she could easily write a Mills & Boon, but I just can't help being left with the feeling that she wouldn't try because, who knows, maybe she'd fail and that would be far too embarrassing. It's an unfortunate fact of life that far too many people fear failure so much that they never dare try anything unless they're 100% certain they'll succeed.
And just to clear up the chav connection, when I asked her why she thought they were written specifically for 'chav women', she explained that the only person she's ever seen reading one is "Onslow's wife, Daisy". Right. For those who don't know, that's Hyacinth's sister out of "Keeping Up Appearances". Daisy was... how shall I put this without appearing rude?... not the brightest lightbulb on the council estate.
Now I'm no snob. I'm sure there are plenty of women like Daisy who read Mills & Boon novels--and long may they enjoy them--but I read them and have never considered myself a chav. My mum's best friend reads them and she's quite la-di-da in her own funny little way (thinking Hyacinth here), and somebody who works in the doctor's surgery reads them because I saw a Sophie Weston laying on the receptionist's desk a few weeks ago. Just those three comprise quite a mixed bunch.
Oh well. Not to worry. This 'improper' writer's going back to work now. Even though it's almost 2am, I have an 'improper' article waiting to be finished ready for delivery tomorrow morning.
PS: The book's over 60% finished now :-)
[UPDATE: I found this on another blog and, as it was appropriate to the discussions this post sparked, thought it would be worth sharing.]