The question raised was: Where are all the working class writers (authors?)
Apparently someone on Radio 4 asked this searching question. I don’t know. I don’t listen to Radio 4. I don’t like the Radio. Personal choice. Radio 4. Class prejudice (both ways?)
But in my wee social media sphere, it got some goats of writers who feel they are hard done by, or that it was a crass question, or just got fucking angry by it. I understand that. It’s easy to get fucking angry with all sorts of things and social media is the place to blow.
For me, it’s not a great forum for serious discussion. I can’t get my head round twitter. I don’t do 140 character style living and certainly not writing. Facebook seems for the most part, to be no more than a chance to either bitch, moan, troll, boast, crave for attention, play needy, the list goes on. It’s rarely a place for constructive and creative collaboration. (Though it could be. It’s up to us how we use the tools right?)
But here, at the virtual Clan Gathering, I thought this is exactly the kind of thing that segues into my McReciprocity ‘Rant’.
There’s many questions being raised and I can’t offer an immediate response to Jack O’Donnell though I hope we may connect somewhere down the line, at least I want to know what he writes. Here I’m putting forward my opinion on the matter with the sole goal of achieving collaborative communication with people who like to think beyond twitface about creativity and its place in our lives.
(Let’s not get hung up on what ‘working class’ REALLY means. We all know what we mean when we use the phrase. We mean those who are deemed lower down the food chain in the capitalist aspirational hierarchy known as ‘British’ society)
So here goes:
- Stop expecting to be valued in a system you are not part of.
2. Stop wanting to be part of this systemThe hierarchical, aspirational, capitalism view of authorship is designed to privilege those at the top of the pile. The ‘masses’ are by definition the ‘workers’ who provide the means for those higher up the food chain to have the ‘good lives’ which in this instance means aspirational careers such as writers .
3. There are plenty of ‘working class’ writers. There are plenty of writers of all kinds and, guess what, there are plenty of readers out there for every kind of writer. That’s not the problem.
The problem is matching reader to writer.
While ‘working class’ (or whatever definition you want to employ) writers keep trying to engage readers from within a system which is designed to exclude them, they will never succeed (but they will keep perpetuating the very system that is oppressing them!)
4. It’s our world too.
We need to embrace this concept first. As long as you feel excluded/hard done by you will never move on. Stuff them. Stop wanting the shiny things they promise because their promise is a lie. It’s predicated on the requirement for you to sacrifice yourself for them. Don’t give them the satisfaction. Just walk out of the trenches.
The REAL problem.
Once we’ve left the trenches, what do we do? How do we become free?
‘Working class’ writers are neither experienced, nor usually comfortable with the style of ‘networking’ required to ‘work’ the system of ‘success’ defined by the likes of Radio 4 world.
That’s probably just as well, because I’m not sure it would achieve any ‘goal’ other than within ‘their’ system.
Looking for community is different from looking for a target market.
What NOT to do is complain that they won’t let you play? They will. They will let you play if you become one of them. But for most of us that’s a sacrifice too big to make.
Whether you choose not to or believe you can’t because of some innate or created ‘disadvantage’ the only sensible solution is to: do something different.
Individually and collectively we lose as long as we tell ourselves that their lives matter more than ours. That money, or awards, or bestseller, or being rated on Radio 4 actually defines success.
It’s our world too. But it takes a total shift in mind-set to fully engage with this.
First: You have to redefine success.
You have to accept: You are a writer. Great. (but so what?)
You’ve written the best work you can. Great. (but so what?)
You have a feeling there are other folk who might appreciate this work. Better. Now we’re getting somewhere. Writing beyond doing it for yourself – which has a value of course – is about communicating.
So now the issue is - find people to ‘share’ with.
I’m guessing you won’t find them in the ‘usual’ places. Don’t slide down the snake here - if your face doesn’t fit in ‘their’ world, change your world not your face.
Look in the less usual places. Leave the ‘mainstream’ and head for the ‘margins’ if you are a marginalia sort of person.
And Stop using irrelevant criteria.
The sadness for me is that we ‘working class’ writers are so caught up in the belief that somehow we’re only ‘successful’ or ‘real’ if we buy into the system that is designed to oppress us, that we don’t ever engage with ‘our world’.
We have been hardwired into competitive. And guess what, creativity isn’t about competition. Or it doesn’t have to be. It can be collaborative. It can be about sharing.
Writers don’t have to be aspirational, competitive ‘am I better than you? ‘ or ‘is my work good enough’ (two sides of same coin) Just throw the bloody coin away.
Success is not a trophy to be aspired to or achieved.
It’s a sense of purpose.
Being a ‘good’ writer doesn’t make you a ‘good’ person. Actually, let’s just throw the word ‘good’ into the bucket. It’s not helpful in this context. ‘Good’ is a value laden word and guess who ‘controls’ the value system????
My alternative to what I’ll call Radio 4 world (though of course it extends far beyond the air waves) is called Collaborative creativity. In the Scots context I call it McReciprocity.
Be clear. It’s not a version of the middle class ‘let’s all big each other up so that I CAN RISE to the top’ where you weigh up carefully how much time you spend promoting someone else (anyone else as long as they might give YOU more followers or more SPOTLIGHT). It’s something entirely different.
It’s finding people who have similar mind-sets. In a creative writing context a good place to start is with people whose writing you enjoy. These are the books and people I want to share and communicate with. It doesn’t just mean that I’m in a ‘bubble’. I like to be challenged and tested, but I don’t like to be patronised or made to feel like my life doesn’t matter or doesn’t fit some ‘acceptable norm.’
For me the key thing about writing is that it is honest and presents real lived experience. it might be urban, it might be rural, it might be from anyone and anywhere in the world (though it’s rarely in my case from committed hierarchialists or 18th century ‘I believe in the power of the British Empire’ or 21st century cultural imperialists. Or indeed anyone who is doing this to be ‘successful’ or ‘bestseller’ That still leaves a broad kirk. I’m pretty eclectic in my tastes.
(For you the exact criteria may be different, but the principle can still hold)
I want to be able to ‘connect’ with the writer. If they’re dead that’s through their work along. If they’re alive, I may have the possibility to actually talk to them, get to know them and communicate outwith the written word.
You know what? Writers are people too. Some of them are even ‘real.’
When you make friends it’s not just to promote yourself is it? It’s because you have shared interests and/or value systems. You like hanging out with them. They make your experience of the world that little bit less depressing – if only because you can be depressed together. Or perhaps they help you see the world from a different perspective, or give you inspiration or explain your thoughts back to yourself in a meaningful way. Hey, that’s all the success I need in writing. Creative communication. Finding myself in the eyes of another person.
So: I don’t recommend another writer because I want to make them famous, flog their book, or worse still FLOG MY BOOK TO A WIDER AUDIENCE BECAUSE THEY HAVE LIKE A ZILLION TWITTER FOLLOWERS AND I DON’T.
I recommend writing from one friend to another because I can draw some connections and I tell Pat – hey you might really like Brendan’s writing– because I know Pat and I know Brendan and I know that they have something similar in their world-views, even though they might be very different in all kinds of other ways. I say ‘I’m not sure you’ll like Annie’s work because I think it’s out of your frame of reference,’ or I say ‘if you’re interested in exploring issues of identity, then even though is a bit way out there… you might get it.’
Or ‘Kirsty writes from a place of pain and honesty. Brendan writes from a place of pain and honesty. Their style and their subject matter are entirely different – at least I think so – but if you ‘connect’ with honest writing, trying to deal with individual pain then you might well like their work.’ But if you don’t like it, hey, that’s cool. Give it a try, at least it’s honest. You can’t ask for much more from a writer. Well, honesty with ‘style’ can be pretty impressive. But ‘raw’ honesty has its own charm. And at different times I look for different kinds of communication. I like coffee and I like cheese. Sometimes I even like them together. But I don’t go off into which is ‘best’ or try to persuade a tea drinker to drink coffee because… ( insert any kind of argument you like).
Note I don’t say ‘it’s good’ in any of this because these words are irrelevant to me. I have an opinion. So what. I’m not trying to convince you, I’m just trying to share. You have opinions of your own. That’s also fine. But ‘I like something’ doesn’t make it ‘good’, even if a zillion other lemmings like it to. Goodness is something entirely different (and not the subject of this ‘rant.’)
I’ve never really worked out what E.M.Forster meant when he said ‘only connect’ and Howard’s End is not something I enjoy because I don’t relate to the people and their problems any more than I relate to the hierarchical capitalist world view of Radio 4.
But hey, these people are entitled to exist. They have their own playing fields. Just don’t ask me to go play there. I’m just thankful I’m old and ugly enough to have stopped pressing my nose up against their window wishing I could enter. That I’ve given up the pointless task of throwing sticks at them until they throw a fucking huge A bomb back at me. ‘You posh gits,’ ‘You talentless scum’ What’s the point? I accept I am not successful in their world. I do not want to be. Just let me be in my own world.
The only times I move away from this disengaged pacifist stance are
- when the fuckers are shooting at me. But if you raise your head above the parapet in their world and that’s what you’ll get. Sniper fire.
- The other time is when the folk I care for and about get upset because they are not getting on in ‘that’ world. Stop trying. Just stop being oppressed by them. It’s not worth it.
We can all be heroes (if it’s a hero you want to be) in our own world.
But you know what? There are better things to be than heroes. We don’t have to write the stories or live the lives the way they tell us is the ‘right’ or ‘good’ or ‘successful’ way. If we ‘only connect’ in our own world - learn about McReciprocity for example – then we will get all the ‘prizes’ we ever need. Well, I do. Because for me the ‘prize’ is being able to write what I want, find people who appreciate (not always agree, but challenge creatively and constructively) and want to share with me. That’s ‘success’ pure and simple. Engaging with other human beings in a creative conversation about how we all see the world.
It’s not about target market, or salary. It’s definitely not the economy, stupid.
It’s not about being told that unless you can commit full time to writing you won’t be ‘any good’ or a ‘real writer’ It’s about finding people who can share and co-support and collaborate with to learn about your own creative needs and help you develop your own creative ‘path’ and sense of self and worth. Whatever they tell you, money is not part of any of this. It’s about so much more than money. We need to wake up to that.
Only Connect folks. It’s our world too. But we have to make our world in the image of ourselves, not sit on the sidelines of their crappy world, wishing they would let us play with their ball. They won’t. And you know what? It’s not even a game worth playing.
Happy Clan Gathering. I hope to engage and chat with any/many others in the year ahead on this and various other themes. It’s not ‘I’ll read yours if you read mine.’ It’s – hey, this is interesting, let’s find common ground. Lets learn to share. To be a community. To experience McReciprocity.