Tell me why any writer should ever stop writing.
Recently I voiced my concern about being cut-off from the Real World. It’s fair to say that a lot of my choices over the past few years have had consequences — a bit of a snowball effect, if you will — and so now it’s not unusual for me to feel completely disconnected, rather than yearning for momentary reprieve from Real World chaos. Today I’m trying to wrap my head around the realization that all this disconnect has not only diminished my ability to achieve comfort in public, and produced noticeable side-effects to my writing voice, but ultimately diminished my ability to comprehend what the hell anyone is talking about.
One of my choices was to read rather than turn on the daily news. In my opinion, the TV news programs are sickeningly over-hyped. A viewer shouldn’t have to waste an hour of their time to gain two minutes of genuine, relevant content.So, for a while, I read online publications of well-known newspapers and, and occasionally, the news feed on the MSN homepage, when taking a break from all the heavy reading required for class and a novel now and then. About a year passed, and the newspaper reading dribbled to once a week, twice a month … I don’t even pay attention to the homepage anymore. Anyway, more often than not, I get my “news” by clicking links to articles that friends share on WordPress or Facebook. Today’s article … well, I’m still processing.
Sidebar: While I’m not absolutely certain that it’s necessary or within the expectations of online discussion to make reference to the article that put me in a tail spin, I feel the weight of the ghosts of English professors past breathing down my neck. Proper citation! The article is entitled “Should White Men Stop Writing?: The Blunt Instrument on Publishing and Privilege”, by Elisa Gabbert, and can be found at electricliterature.com.
This article opens with a letter requesting advice. Whether the letter is authentic or not, I can’t say — in fact, my initial reaction was to question it’s authenticity, because (yes, I’ve been caught off guard by “satirical” publications before) I couldn’t imagine a guy voicing such concerns. Forget “guy”, I couldn’t imagine a writer voicing such concerns in such a way. My next reaction was to seek out someone, one of my cool friends, to explain this to me. But they’re cool, so they were busy at the moment.
This article left me agape. Don’t get me wrong, I do have an understanding of social sensitivity. I am a woman who came of age in the southern U.S., so it’s never been a great stretch to realize and express empathy for anyone who can’t be categorized as The Man.
Virginia Woolf composed intelligent and utterly beautiful protests against libraries being chock full of works by men and dire warnings that women would not earn a foothold in society without writing. Richard Wright and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were two of the greatest American writers eloquent enough, and courageous enough to offer perspective other than that accepted as mainstream, who rarely passed up the opportunity to encourage others outside the mainstream to get educated and speak! and write! I grew up reading the works of scholars and novelists and speech writers from all walks of life. The lack of women authors outside the romance genre was definitely noticeable, even to an adolescent. But that’s all changed now, right?
Anyone who’s lived their lives on the planet Earth and ever picked up a history book should be able to recognize the inevitability of social change — something important comes along every decade or so. Therefore, I’m not the least surprised when a shout for equality rings out. It’s resistance and denial that shock me. If I were to ever protest anything involving the subject of equality, it would be to demand that such a basic human right never be fought over. Likewise, no one person or group should be expected to or required to cease expressing themselves for the sake of another person’s or group’s expression to commence.
And just so we’re clear, I’m discussing writing/art/creativity/publication here. Not the question of whether or not extremists have the right to wreak havoc on innocents, or whether or not dictators should suffer punishment as war criminals.
Is the request for advice featured in this article real? Are there actually writers out there who doubt their RIGHT to WRITE? Are there actually influential publications and individuals who believe themselves justified in advising writers of a certain race or gender to to stop seeking publication?
The only part of this article that made total sense to me was the advice to be respectful of the publications to which they submit — this seems rather obvious, but I have seen this problem discussed in lit journals over the years. However, I do question the statement that white men tend to be the largest category of writers with persistently sloppy submissions. One thing’s for certain, there is diversity in bad writing.
While personally I have no problem empathizing with anyone seeking the power of self-expression, is it really necessary for me (or white men) to read widely of those groups for the sake of improving sensitivity? That seems a bit intrusive on personal choice. Writers are typically going to read widely anyway, even without someone advising them to do so.
Did I overreact to the content of this article? Am I missing something vitally important to the topics broached here? Enlighten me.