Sunday, March 28, 2010

The persistence of...persistence

I once had a couple of friends. Let's call them Fiona and Irene. At the time when I was friendly with Fiona and Irene, I was training in martial arts. Because both women were somewhat interested in the topic, I invited them to a class. For whatever reason (maybe I was a bit too "intense"), they didn't take me up on my offer. However, when I touched base with them a few months later, Fiona was beaming.

"Guess what Irene and I did?" she asked. "We took up martial arts!"
"That's great," I said. "Which one?"
"Well, it wasn't exactly a martial art. We did a six-week self-defence course for women."
"And how long ago was this?"
"We finished it last month."
I nodded. "And did you find it useful?"
"Oh it was fabulous. Irene and I know so much more than we did before we went. Now we understand what you were talking about. It's very empowering."
So Fiona went on about how wonderful the instructor was and what kind of moves he showed them.
"And how often do you practise those moves?" I asked.
Fiona shrugged. "We don't. But we don't think we need to. After all, it was a pretty full-on six weeks."
"But you haven't rehearsed anything you learnt since then?"
"Why would we need to?" she insisted with a frown. "We already know what to do."
Despite what other people may think, I occasionally know when to stop gnawing on a particular bone, so I smiled and wished Fiona the best and just told her not to get too cocky when she's out late at night.
With a laugh and a wave, she tripped off.

And I was left in utter despair. Fiona and Irene were getting a very misguided picture of their skill level based on weekly attendance at a short course in self-defence. And, judging by the way Fiona held herself and what she said, I knew that the level of confidence she had acquired was dangerous enough to put herself into trouble if she didn't keep her eyes open. Added to that were her rapidly eroding skills due to lack of practice. So, if she let herself get into a bad situation, even if she had some inkling of what to do, chances were she wouldn't have been able to do anything about it.

It seems a far stretch to compare Fiona and Irene to writing but bear with me. Before I was published, when I mentioned that I wrote, the inevitable question would be, "So, what have you got out?"

At that point, I didn't have anything out. "Nothing yet," I'd say, "but I'm working on a science-fiction romance."

"Oh yeah," they'd inevitably reply, "I thought I'd write one of them too. Or one of those Mills & Boon romance things. I mean, how hard can it be?"

Because my commentators didn't know what it was like to actually sit down and write one of those "things" from start to finish, they thought it was easy. Like writing a letter (or email), except longer! And who hasn't written someone a letter or email at some point?

Now, with a few releases under my belt, I get a different reaction. It's now more along the lines of what exactly it's like to be a writer rather than a casual remark about "whipping off" one of "those books" and "making a ton of money" as a result.

But I hope you can see where I'm coming from. The people who make those remarks are a lot like Fiona and Irene. They may be wonderful people in their own right, but they're making vast generalisations based on a small slice of experience. The next time someone takes the same tack with you, just remember that it isn't a deliberate slight. They're actually trying to identify with you, I think, but just not going about it in the best, most productive way. Best thing to do is just smile and move on. Or, if you can't resist baiting the bear, agree with them and have some fun. It works for me.

* Kaz Augustin is a writer who is definitely not out to win any popularity contests. You can find her website here and she blogs three times a week, more or less, here.


Maria Zannini said...

I blame Hollywood for making people think authors earn big bucks and ANYONE can write a book.

Sometimes I almost cringe when I have to admit I write fiction because inevitably someone will step up and tell me he has a great idea for a book.

You know how the rest plays out.

Liane Spicer said...

[Heeheee. Love your byline. Ticked anyone off recently? :D]

I have to try hard not to get irritated by people who do this, which is one of the reasons I don't talk about the writing part of my life except to other writers and a couple people who are close to me. By the same token, next time someone asks me when I'll be on Oprah I swear I'll be commenting here from behind bars.

Anonymous said...

There are two ways you can get away with being (over)confident at self-defence: (i) Practise, and (ii) wear body armour. There are two ways you can "publish one of those book things": (i) Hard work and perseverance, (ii) be a celebrity :o(

I also dread that question about writing. Almost as much as I dread the question that begins: "you know about computers, don't you...?". As if a person can only either know nothing or everything about computers.

Laughing at Liane's comment. Don't worry, we'll come and visit you in prison ;oP