April 17, 2018

The problem of sneering: are some people offended by others’ big dreams?

Posted in Fiction Writing, performance, publication, Success, writing for fun tagged , , , , at 8:00 am by Rebecca Hein

The problem of contempt toward unsuccessful writers is huge indeed if a musician feels free to sneer at a writer. Just to deepen the mystery—and the need for writers in particular to protect themselves—nobody ever derided me for wanting to be a professional cellist.

When I was at the most intensive hard-work and skill-building stage of my cello playing, my parents and teachers expressed concern for the effects of my impractical goal on my future, and encouraged me to add teacher certification in music to my college major of cello performance. But not one person criticized me or slighted my hopes.

By contrast, I learned early not to talk much about my hobby—writing—because I quickly discovered it was a waste of time and energy to deal with the invective that often seemed to result.

Were people jealous? Offended that I liked to do something fun and rewarding with my spare time? Affronted that I dared to nurture and follow my creative ideas?

Or did they sense my own big dreams, years before I was conscious of those dreams? But even if they did detect the presence of those possibly unrealistic dreams, why should they therefore resent and criticize?


April 10, 2018

The community musician who was as disdainful as the BBC and NPR reporters

Posted in music and writing, publication, Success tagged , , at 8:18 am by Rebecca Hein

In 1992, more than ten years before the BBC/NPR episode, I had a mini-encounter with the attitude that unsuccessful writers are beneath contempt . Back then, I already knew I could expect minor put-downs from people outside the creative arts; many people just don’t understand what we do. Hence, their remarks, while unflattering or even insulting, often emerge from their ignorance of the entire field of creative endeavor.

But the 1992 episode showed me the deeper problem. I was being interviewed for a job in cello performance. I’d already auditioned, but my prospective colleagues and I decided it would be a good idea if we also talked about their expectations and mine. It was a community “core professional” orchestra position, in which most of the members of the orchestra were amateurs from the community, and the concertmaster, principal viola and principal cello were professionals. Therefore, the limits of my prospective job were not as well defined as if it had been a union gig with a full-time professional orchestra and a contract.

I did have a contract for this part-time job, but still felt I had to ask a version of the question, “Is this job going to devour my time [beyond what the somewhat loose language of the contract specifies]?” So I asked, and made the mistake of adding, “I’m asking because I have another life goal than just playing the cello.” I said nothing about what that goal was.

“It’s probably writing the Great American Novel.” It was not a friendly quip but a cheap shot. The person who said it was the concertmaster of that community orchestra. I could not mistake his tone, nor the disdain that lay beneath it, and which he had not bothered to hide.

April 3, 2018

Sneering at writers: the contemptuous reporters from the BBC and NPR

Posted in Creativity, publication, Success tagged , at 8:15 am by Rebecca Hein

As we have seen, the two reporters from the BBC and NPR didn’t make the slightest effort to hide their contempt of the unpublished writers who swarmed into the courtroom with their manuscripts. Why didn’t they bother to hide it? I can only conclude that our culture permitted it.

Look at all the put-downs we no longer tolerate (or aren’t supposed to tolerate): racial or ethnic slurs, insults to disabled people, discrimination against women and minorities. I’m not saying we’ve solved every problem related to these longstanding injustices, however, no national or international reporter would have dared to speak of almost any other class of people as they did about these writers.

Was it the derision of the successful toward the unsuccessful? If so, that would mean that writers, per se, were not the target, just the general category of people with dreams as yet unrealized. However, I haven’t really tried to believe this, because the episode of the Da Vinci Code lawsuit had a precedent in my own life.

March 21, 2018

I’ve forgotten their words, but I’ll never forget their tone

Posted in Fiction Writing, publication, Success tagged , , at 8:12 am by Rebecca Hein

Contempt, undisguised and almost virulent: I observed this public behavior in two prominent people who should have known better. It was spring 2006, and the BBC and National Public Radio were covering the London trial in which Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, was being sued for some of the content of his book. Because this was a lawsuit about a book, there were expert witnesses from the publishing industry, including high-profile editors and writers.

After describing the courtroom scene to the NPR reporter and the radio audience, the BBC reporter added something like this: “The court is also teeming with writers bearing their manuscripts. They’re so desperate to get a publisher that they are accosting all the editors and heads of publishing houses whose attention they can capture.”

Snickering, the two reporters exchanged a few words about how pathetic that was. I’ve forgotten their words, but I’ll never forget their tone: dripping with the acid of contempt. I’ve witnessed derision before, but this was the most scathing display I’d ever encountered. Ever since, I’ve been trying to make sense of this unashamed, public put-down of writers.

March 13, 2018

Why do so many people sneer at writers? We seem to be fair game.

Posted in Creativity, Fiction Writing, music and writing, publication, Stages, Success tagged , , , at 9:30 am by Rebecca Hein

Long ago I learned not to tell most people that I liked to write. I loved it so much that I would probably have majored in creative writing, had the cello not grabbed me first. I became a dedicated hobby writer, and gradually certain projects took shape in my head until I knew I had to reserve at least some spare time for them.

Two episodes of jeering stand out in my memory from the time when I began to realize I was a serious writer, ambitious to get published and connect with readers.

The first revealed an ingrained, culturally sanctioned contempt for “unsuccessful” writers—those who work at their craft, want to be published, have a book manuscript or other large project to sell, and haven’t yet found a publisher. The second incident, much more shocking, showed that even another creative artist—a fellow musician—felt free to snipe and poke fun at what he imagined to be my foolish dreams.

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