For three and a half years, I was fortunate enough to have someone pay me actual money to take words from my feeble little brain, organize them into sentences they then would print in a newspaper or post online.
And I still never called myself a ‘writer’.
I have a problem with self-labelers. I have a problem with people who give themselves titles they haven’t deserved yet. You might do these things, but that doesn’t make you the thing you say you are. If you write, you aren’t necessarily a writer. If you play music, you aren’t a musician, and if you paint, you aren’t a painter, if you take pictures, you aren’t a photographer.
I’ve seen this discussion a million different places, with most people opting to soothe the battered egos of the aspiring artist, essentially letting them off the hook and telling them, ‘If you need to say you’re a writer to get your ass in the chair, then fine you’re a writer,’ or, ‘if you write everyday, you’re a writer.’
I might shoot some free throws at the hoop over the garage, it doesn’t mean I’m a basketball player. The title denotes a level of professionalism, and if you haven’t earned it, I don’t think you should have it, is all. I am clearly the odd one out here, judging by the proliferation and popularity of sites like Redbubble.
The problem with Redbubble [or Deviantart, or Livejournal or hell, even WordPress] is this: Yes, there is good quality, there’s the stuff that gets posted to the main page or gets picked up and reposted somewhere and goes viral. And then there are millions of contributions that exist only in the profile of one poster and his or her followers. They post a shitty poem or drawing and sit back for the accolades to come in from people as amateurish as they are. The cost for these compliments is to offer equally vapid and thoughtless [meaning without thought] compliments to them in return, creating this vacuum of sycophancy and mediocrity that I just don’t have the time for, not anymore.
See friends, back in the heady days of 56 K we had forums: awful places with awkward interfaces, but they were the first way most of us started using the Internet to connect with people from across the world, and if you were a writer a quick browse through Yahoo’s category listing could give you some poetry magazines. This is how I found VOiCE. VOiCE was a zine published out of Indianapolis which never took my submissions probably because I wasn’t quite miserable enough and didn’t listen to enough industrial music </sourgrapes>. But they had a forum and a dedicated group of people who would read whatever went up and sometimes offer criticism but most times just offered support. You know what constant support gets you? Shitty poetry, that’s what.
But it was the order of the day, and I just wanted to fit in, so I’d leave two-word niceties on most people’s work so they’d repay in kind when I posted, or at least go easy on me because I was a nice guy. For the most part it worked, but one day one guy wouldn’t let me off the hook, asking me why I always heaped compliments on work that was inferior to my own. It’s still the kindest thing a stranger has ever said to me, and an endorsement I’ve never forgotten, one that shook me out of the coma of cheap flattery I’d been in. I stopped posting not too long after. A quick check of the web address reveals an aborted attempt to relaunch the site as an archival blog, choked with spam comments.
This is an epiphany most Redbubble seem content to live without. They enjoy their complacency, so good on them for it, I guess.
So keep on throwing up first drafts with no revision and call yourself a writer. But you ain’t fooling me, friends. I respect the art too much to toss the title around so frivolously.