The Writer’s Bill Of Rights

This will be a work in progress, but this is the first and absolute right:

1) A writer does not have to have the same politics, tastes, mood, religion, prejudices, ideas, sexuality, likes, or dislikes as you. If you don’t agree with any of that, stop reading altogether because you don’t deserve any books at all and probably don’t understand anything that you’ve been reading.

What made me do this post is the latest in snipery from readers who think a writer owes them something other than the work they’ve read and/or bought.

I don’t see this kind of crap brought up with film directors, movie stars, musicians, or most other professions.

Somehow readers believe that they make writers.

I’ve got news for all of you. We writers write whether we have readers or not.

If you want to read us — and even pay us for that — we’re grateful.

But that’s all we “owe” you. Period.

The specific inspiration for this post — the latest in a long line of inspiration going back several years now — is this Amazon message board thread.

One writer does a post. Another writer deems it insulting somehow.

And the pile-on begins.

Guess what? People — writer people — are going to differ from you in many, many ways. Just like any other human being you encounter in the course of your day. What makes you think that just because you’ve read a writer’s work you somehow “own” that person or even “know” that person?

Do you get this weird idea after seeing a movie? A TV program? Hearing a song? Exchanging pleasantries with a next door neighbor?

I’ve got news for you. You don’t even know yourself all that well.

I’d tell you to go read Philip K. Dick’s The Electric Ant, which illustrates how little we can know about ourselves, but I don’t think most people would even understand the point he makes in that story. Because if most people did — specifically those people who think they are smart because they buy books and profess to read them — I wouldn’t be seeing the sniping and childishness I’ve witnessed again and again with readers’ attitudes towards writers.

I’ve seen people complain, for example, about the beliefs of writer Orson Scott Card. That’s too damned bad for you. He’s entitled to believe whatever the hell he wants. It’s irrelevant to his work, which I will continue to buy and read, even though we seem to have very little in common beside the fact he does work I like and will continue to support.

This is supposed to be America, not some sort of dictatorial state where everyone is supposed to agree with everyone else on every single matter big and small.

If a Belief Checklist determines whose books you will purchase, here’s another newsflash for you: You will be left with very little to read.

Any writer with any backbone would tell any reader who pries into their private life to go to hell — to put it mildly. And if a writer expresses an opinion that readers disagree with, those readers can still go hell. The writer has done his job: writing.

If you want to boycott people because they’re not like you, you open a Pandora’s Box that is inevitably going to come after you. Look around you today. At how careful you have to be in your own workplace about expressing an opinion. See how fast the wrong string of words can get you called down to Human Resources for some “re-training.”

Is that the kind of world you really want to live in?

If it is, then why the hell are you reading books, which are supposed to be the place for the free and open expression of ideas and opinions? Why read at all?

All you are entitled to out of any writer is their work.

Nothing more.

Grow up.

Additional:

Good grammar leads to violence at Starbucks?

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7 Comments

Filed under Writers, Writing

7 responses to “The Writer’s Bill Of Rights

  1. I agree almost entirely with this, Mike. I would extend this “bill of rights” to wider society, however. I think your boss has no business policing what you think about general topics, either (and probably has no business policing what you think about the job or him). FAR too many employers nowadays get FAR too involved in thought-police-type activities, disciplining or even firing workers for things they (a) do after-hours or even (b) write on their blogs. Why bosses think they’re entitled to weigh in on a worker’s personality or general outlook on life is beyond me.

    • mikecane

      Oh yes. And now they hire specialists who trawl MySpace, Facebook, et al, to find material to disqualify a hire. One day soon, someone will turn the tables on this and start crowdstalking CEOs and other bosses to blog dirt about their private lives (even if it’s not actual dirt, it can be spun to make them look ridiculous).

  2. Woody Allen: I would be lost without his films. I could do without the pedophilia.

    • mikecane

      But did you ever think you somehow owned a piece of Allen after paying to see one of his movies? And all that crap in his life is his crap. I don’t need to know any of that and it has no bearing on his films — unless he starts doing Lolita-type movies that advocate that kind of thing.

  3. It’s the song not the singer and, Mike, as usual you have managed to hit ye nail on ye head.

    Neil Gaiman had a post awhile back, responding to the twits who are taking George R.R. Martin to task for being tardy releasing the latest book in a fantasy series. The title of Gaiman’s piece was perfect: “George R.R. Martin is Not Your Bitch”.

    Yep.

  4. laura

    It seems to me that there is in fact something special about books that provokes this kind of reaction in readers. Off the top of my head, it occurs to me that there are probably three reasons this doesn’t come up as much in other media:

    1) There are multiple people involved in the production of music and film. As you mention, movies have directors, producers, writers, actors, etc. Most people focus on the actors, and although some directors are well-known and have cult followings, I suspect few people focus on the director. Even fewer know who are the writers behind the film. If the movie is based on a book, the majority of moviegoers probably haven’t read the book before they see the film (sad, but likely).

    Regarding music, many performers don’t write their own music or lyrics. So you have composers and lyricists. Additionally, many musical groups are composed of several performers. Most fans probably only know the performers.

    In both these cases, the creative effort is shared, so it’s not as easy to call people out. A writer is the sole visible creator of a book as far as the public is concerned, so it becomes easy to focus on the writer’s beliefs, statements or actions.

    2) Hollywood has cultivated the images of stars. Most of the music and film celebrities, at least the major names, have agents and PR types. Those guys help make sure that the artist doesn’t do or say things that will have a negative impact on public perception. Of course, that doesn’t always work (maybe I should say it rarely works), since many of the stars are caught doing and saying all kinds of crazy things that may offend the average sensibilities. OTOH, I’d argue that this is part of the culture that has been created around stars, and the public seems to discount it in a way that they would not for people considered more “normal,” like writers. I think the same holds true for musicians.

    3) There is something special about a book compared to film and music, both of which are performance arts. Because the act of reading a book is not a performance (here I am tempted to say that you might consider that the reader is the performer), I think it creates the impression of a more personal link between the reader and the writer than in the other media. Perhaps this perception of a personal link then makes it more likely that readers may feel as if they personally know the writers whose works they read.

    Note I’m not defending the behavior you describe; I’m just sharing some thoughts that may explain why it seems to happen more to writers than to other media professionals.

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