Thu 17 Jan 2008
I wrote some nasty things about writers earlier this week, and, as I was considering whether I owe anybody an apology, it occured to me that there is precious little written in disparagement of writers. There is ample criticism of individual works and individual writers, usually for bad writing, but not much written against the profession of writing or the character of writers, including good ones.
And so I wrote that the picketers of the TV writers’ union weren’t rugged enough to call themselves strikers, and I suggested that they would need a rougher edge if they expected to win. Writers, I implied, are just not the sort to arouse much sympathy in the public or feelings of solidarity among laborers. My analysis may have been facile, but it’s still worth looking at.
As a writer and a reader, I’m not at all hesitant to say that the best writers are incessant whiners. Writing about what’s right with the world is writing without conflict, without drama, without purpose, without life. Writing is a sublimated, adult form of tantrum. Happy, contented folks take little pleasure in writing and hardly ever engage in it. A bargaining unit of workers whose job requires such misanthropy is, from a unionist’s point of view, at a disadvantage.
You can’t stereotype writers, but the writings of writers tend to be introspective at their best, and self-absorption is a big part of introspection. Self-absorbed people don’t do well on picket lines. They shiver. I said here that the people I saw on this picket line looked delicate, and the writers I’ve worked with have been delicate. Try editing one, and see what happens.
I said writing was easy compared to actual work. People in cushy jobs don’t make good labor grievants. I don’t know anybody who washes dishes or mixes mortar as a hobby, but I write for my own edification, and you probably do too. I’m compelled to write. I wish I could be getting modestly paid for it again, but, alas, I’m delicate, prone to tantrums, and excessively self-absorbed, and so no one will have me.
A few people took my description of the writer-picketers as “delicate” and their signs as “dainty” to carry some effeminate connotation, but I was using the words in an entirely literal sense, and I was pleased with the image I thought I would evoke. The idea of sexual identity was the furthest thing from my mind, and I had to eat a few epithets. In retrospect, as a writer and an avid neurotic, I’m gratified to have been misunderstood in a way that provoked discussion.