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Proper vs. Improper Writing
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Are published writers necessarily better writers than those who are unpublished?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.

Daisy (Keeping Up Appearances)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.

Sharon J

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.]
Posted by Sharon J on 1:51 AM   

Blogger Jeanne said...

Sharon, I had to go to wikipedia to look up 'chav' - obviously I didn't live long enough in England to understand all the subtleties of the language!

I know what you mean about 'proper' writing. I'm a technical writer but when I meet people it's my fiction efforts they wish to talk about, not user manuals or online help...although that's not a surprise!

1:42 PM   

Anonymous Sharon J said...

Oops. I never thought that maybe some people wouldn't know what a chav is. Thanks for the tip - I'll link to a definition.

I've a feeling that HMB novels are more acceptable as being "proper books" in Canada than they are here. Would you agree with that?

2:32 PM   

Blogger Jeanne said...

I believe they're more widely read here but not openly, I must confess. It's rare you see someone on the metro (subway) reading a romance novel. It's more likely to be Dan Brown or literary fiction. Perhaps Canadians keep romance novels for boudoir reading - I do!

3:59 PM   

Blogger Seawave said...

I find the timing of your post remarkable given that I wrote a similar blog post about "real" writers on a writer's blog I belong to. Interesting how the identity of a writer seems only to be validated by publication by so many.

Thank you for your visit to my site, and for your insightful comments.

I wish to encourage you in your writing and wish you the best in your endeavors as a writer, whatever those are as defined by yourself.

4:14 PM   

Anonymous Sharon J said...

Jeanne. I couldn't help laughing - I had this vision of you sitting in bed wearing a knitted bed-jacket whilst reading a HMB with your toes curling up! Sorry, it's the Daisy connection.

Seawave. Yes, I know! I was equally as amazed when I went to the blog and saw your post. I guess we can put it down to great minds thinking alike ;-)

4:24 PM   

Blogger Jeanne said...

Not a bad image, Sharon, except for the bed-jacket of course. May I wear something a trifle more chic? Say a red woollen calf-length cardigan?

4:31 PM   

Blogger Lisa said...

I thought I was the only one that watched, "Keeping up Appearances!"

I love it!!

7:22 PM   

Blogger Karen Erickson said...

In the US people who read category romances don't necessarily announce it. I know they're out there - the chain stores that sell them will have half empty racks by mid month so someone is buying them. And the eharlequin website is always busy with both writers and readers. But it's not something people want to shout from the rooftops.

I think it's an old fashioned association, cos I'll admit up until about 6-7 years ago, I didn't think too highly of them myself. They used to be all the same thing, but now the lines are all so diverse and interesting, there's a little something for everyone.

Ok, sorry I rambled. Thanks for coming by my blog!

9:23 PM   

Blogger Sue aka MsCreativity said...

Hmm... I've had many similar derogatory comments mentioned over the years. The first thing I tend to ask is whether they have ever bothered to read a HMB. The answer is usually no...

I've made a decision that I'm no longer going to justify myself and my love of HMB. If I'm ever accepted (oops, I should say *when*, lol)then I will be proud to be among their many great writers. :-)

10:11 PM   

Anonymous Sharon J said...

Jeanne. You've twisted my arm. A long red cardi it is then.

Lisa. Do you have it in the US? And you understand the humour? I hope that doesn't sound as if I'm belittling you in any way but I've spoken to quite a few Americans who don't 'get' our humour.

Karen. I thought category romance was far more acceptable in the US. Just goes to show how wrong I was and that I shouldn't assume anything. I can't understand why chick-lit and similar is acceptable but category romance isn't.

Although I have to say that HMB probably aren't doing themselves any favours by making their covers so similar. When they look so similar, people automatically imagine the stories will be similar, too. "That cover has a dark haired guy kissing a blonde woman on the front so it must be the same as that book because it also has a cover showing a dark..." and so it goes on. I really think that's something they ought to address.

MsCreativity. It turned out the person I mentioned had never actually read a HMB but I've had similar comments from some who have. They read them but believe they're easily "churned out". Even that article I linked to described them as "forms of commercial fiction written by clever journalists with no pretensions to do anything other than make money." Which journalists would that be, I wonder? The HMB authors that I've met certainly aren't journalists.

And yes... it's definitely "when" rather than "if" :-)

12:16 AM   

Blogger Debi said...

It's just so easy for people to judge and criticise ... Don't EVER let anyone put you off or be deterred by intellectual snobs who are quick to jeer but couldn't necessarily write themselves.
The world seems to be divided into those who hate the likes of Dan Brown (for example) and those who love him. There's an elitism among people who take pride in saying they wouldn't dream of reading his books. I read the Da Vinci Code because I felt I really should know what was turning people on in their droves. And - yes, I could very easily criticise the plotting/writing/characters etc. Would I have written it myself if I could? You bet!
I know this is a bit off the subject, but I think it's the same with any genre. If people want to read it, it has validity and no one has the right to say it's not 'real' or to look down their noses. And I say that as a supposedly 'real' ie published writer.

11:02 AM   

Anonymous Sharon J said...

Debi. Thanks for your comment. That's just the way I feel, too. I don't let them upset me because I know that most people who critise are doing so out of envy more than anything else. It's that old "if I can't do it/have it I'll pretend it's no good" game that very small children play. Unfortunately some people just never grow out of it. You could call it the the opposite of 'one-up-manship' I suppose.

Folks and their games, eh?

11:26 AM   

Blogger Jaci Burton said...

There will always be those who either don't understand, don't want to understand, are jealous of what we do or know they can never possibly do what we do so they have to put it down. Some can only make themselves feel important if they make others feel unimportant. Then there are the literary snobs and we just won't get into those.

I love romance and will never make apologies for either reading or writing it. I'd say since you are writing it you are a very proper writer, indeed :-)


8:28 PM   

Anonymous Sharon J said...

Jaci. Thanks for popping in.

"Some can only make themselves feel important if they make others feel unimportant." Yes, there's definitely a strong element of this around and I suspect my friend's motivations may well be connected to her own lack of confidence.

9:32 PM   

Blogger Maxine said...

I never imagined Mills and Boons as read by chavs. More likely by naive or shy people who don't get out much, I would have thought.

I think it is all "proper" writing, whatever it is.

I am a science editor, by the way, and very few people I meet outside the sphere have any interest or knowledge of it. But I like doing it anyway!

4:44 PM   

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