Thursday, July 05, 2007

Musings on Writerly Identity

Nick Mamatas, the Clarkesworld editor that gave me my first rejection with feedback, often has a blunt, brusque way of putting things that catches my attention and gets me thinking. (Yes, yes, good for him, good for me; shiny gold stars for everyone!) More often than not, my immediate response is an incoherent jumble of thoughts that usually start with, "Yes, but...." The posts of his that garner an extensive mental babble of vaguely defined agreeing protestations I tend to set aside and come back to frequently to see if I can shake anything cogent out of all the rumblings.

A while back, he posted a long bit about how writers who prefer to call themselves "craftspeople" rather than "artists" had it wrong all wrong and were bad stupid monkeys. This generated all sorts of "I see what you're saying, and I don't fully disagree, but I don't fully agree" trainwrecks in my head. So I kept going back to it, trying to figure out just what the hey my brain really was trying to tell itself on this matter. Luckily, he posted on recent caterwaulings within the SF community about getting no respect. His point on the last post was something along the lines of "Please, it's a Pulitzer for a non-journalistic medium; it means nothing." Fair enough, but I found the linked discussions about how SF is viewed from the outside and how the insiders feel about that insteresting and finally gave me the catalyst for understanding my "Yes, but" to the "NO CRAFTSPEOPLE NO!!" post.

So here are my thoughts, still not as coherently expressed as they likely could be, and in no particular order.

1. My desire to believe I'm special, capable of changing the world, became less important than just wanting to do my thing without Life mucking things up too much, sometime in the past two years. Probably having a kid had something to do with it. Yet even when I thought I was the shisnit, I always wanted people to believe that they could do whatever great thing it was I wanted to do if they just tried hard enough (perhaps to justify my own existence as being earned, not a series of lucky breaks along with work, some of it hard). Calling myself an "artist" immediately puts me in that "special through my own uniqueness that you can never achieve" category that I never wanted to be a part of. Bit of an off-shoot of the "we make our own destiny" way of thinking, just even more steeped in a desperate sense to find validation in the world.

2. I know going in that commercial fiction of any genre stripe gets shat upon by folks with soap boxes who are trying to establish what will be remembered 100 years from now today to cement their own importance in the world. Part of me cares (it's small; the same part that dreamed in a "I really don't believe this would ever happen, but it's warm and fuzzy" way that I would win the Nobel prize for some amazing AIDS or cancer research breakthrough by the age of 35). Most of me just has that same "let me get on with what I want to do here" attitude. And another part of me laughs maniacally, dreaming of the day when I am a multi-million dollar genre hack so I can really gloat.

3. I'm really starting to bristle at labels lately.

4. Art is a product of plying one's craft. That's why someone can look at an overall shitty piece of art and say, "Look at the craftsmanship." Because it is something to admire the putting together of a story, but if the story itself sucks, then it's a shitty piece of art with excellent craftsmanship. Weaving a basket is craft much the same way that writing a standard five-paragraph essay is craft. Thus I would never call myself an artist or a craftsperson. I am a writer. I ply a craft to create a work of art. Thus I can be identified as either a craftsperson or as an artist by others as they see fit. For myself, I don't see a separation between the two, really.

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