Monday, 26 April 2010

A classless society? Not if you’re a writer

There was a time when you could tell which class someone belonged to by the cut of their clothes. Now we all shop at the same stores. Even designer label outifts look similar to High Street copies. Holidays in hot climes are available to all and eating out is no longer a reserve of the rich and sophisticated few. It’s true that cars still give a hint of a person’s buying power but I’ve never experienced snobbery attached to car ownership.

So have we finally achieved that utopian dream of the classless society?

I don’t think so!

As a writer in the UK I am continually being made aware of my place in the industry. For a number of years I wrote short stories for women’s magazines. There were times when fellow writers would imply that this was a lesser form of writing. I often challenged them to give it a try. They never did. It’s not as easy as it looks.

Shortly after my picture book, Bathtime Rap, was published, someone made the inevitable comment about how I should now move on to writing proper books for adults. Writing for children is not an apprenticeship for the real thing. It is the real thing.

What is it with writers? Why is light romance not deemed to be as worthy as a literary tome, especially as the romantic novel often brings more pleasure to more people? There’s no point in writing if it’s not to bring pleasure or enlightenment... which brings me to blogging and its standing in the literary world. Opinions are definitely mixed.

I met an old writing friend the other day. She asked me if I was managing to get much writing done at the moment, what with my husband being on chemotherapy and my son and daughter-in-law having a new baby. I said that yes, I was keeping the writing discipline going especially as I now had a blog. I explained that regular postings are all part of writing a blog but the expression on her face made me feel as if I had admitted to child abuse. She grunted and turned to talk to someone else. I was a blogger. I was a lesser writer.

Inevitably all those of you reading this will understand what a blog is and will be enjoying it... hopefully, but how can we educate those who don’t know a blog from a blag? I’ve learnt a lot by reading other people’s blogs, especially those with advice for writers. I’ve also got a lot of enjoyment from blogs. There are funny ones, thoughtful ones and ones that make you say, ‘Yes, I’ve been there and I know exactly how you’re feeling.’ So I’m sorry for those people who think that blogs are beneath them. They are the losers for sure.

Does this sort of class distinction exist in other professions or is it just writers?

21 comments:

  1. The Guardian had a really interesting article a few weeks back by Robert McCrum, about classes for writers. Apparently poets are at the top. He didn't even mention chick lit writers, etc!

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  2. Great post, Rosalind and well observed. I think other professions have similar snobbery attached. If you are a sales assistant in New Look I bet your experience is a great deal different than if you worked in Harvey Nicks! It seems to be part of the human condition (for some people at least) to constantly compete and only feel good about yourself if you are perceived as doing better than your neighbour. My publishing success so far has all been in magazines and I'm proud of that, even if at least one of the stories makes me barf 'cos it's so sickly sweet. But that's just because that's not what I am into - a personal preference rather than a feeling of superiority.
    I congratulate you on your success. Nx

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  3. Hi Talli. I suppose he considered Chick Lit to be among the unmentionables. I enjoy reading poetry but can't understand why it's always held in such high esteem.

    Thanks for the comment/follow, Nettie. It's a shame that us humans still clamber over each other rather than learning to live alongside each other.

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  4. Thoughtful post! I think snobbery exists everywhere. It's part of human nature to think we're better than someone else. So sad. And so silly.

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  5. Snobbery of any kind drives me batty! We deliberately chose a home in a school area with a very mixed socio-economic group. We didn't want the kids to judge people based on money or jobs or anything else. I'm pleased to say it worked and our kids have friends at all parts of the spectrum. Some people miss out on so much joy because they worry about silly things like this!

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  6. Hi Karen. Yes, like you say, so silly.

    Glad it's working for your kids, Jemi, but is there any snobbery/hierarchy among writers in Canada?

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  7. It even exists with non-writers. Yesterday I talked to a colleague about my writing, and she explained that she couldn't write "simply for other people to enjoy the writing". Her "intellectual standards" would require her to write something - well, more intellectual, I guess.

    (I resisted the urge to pinch her. Everyone to their own liking and all, you know... just told her that if I could make people enjoy what I write, that would be totally enough to satisfy me, but she knew that I am a peasant and simple girl. *lol*)

    As far as I understand it, with so many things available to almost everyone, education, family and the kind of media used for entertainment purposes have become the new "class labels". Like, everybody wants their kids to go to university, and if they are not intelligent enough (sorry, but some kids are cut and dumb), they are forced through school with the help of private teachers and all. Or people hiding their "Just for fun" novels by wrapping them in James Joyce book jackets.

    Yes, I've seen people do that.

    It's especially "classy" to talk using all these modern self-help fancy words, like "proactive" and "hands-on strategy", even if you only talk about needing to buy some bread.

    And yes, I know that kind of people, too.

    (I will also admit to looking down on people talking about how they got their latest hairstyle to look just like what some fancy singer has on their head, and on people reading yellow press or lifestyle magazines. Well, I'm just one of the snobby crowd.)

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  8. The question is, who sets these different classes and what criteria they use. It's not a matter of sales volume or enjoyability (does that word exist?) or work and time put into it.
    We need a writers' Marx to defend us.

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  9. What a hilarious idea, Diandra. I think we should start marketing James Joyce book jackets for 'Just for Fun' novels... but I'm afraid you're right. We all have a bit of snobbishness in us. It's sometimes hard to be proud of something you've done and still keep your feet on the ground.

    Hi Sarah, I too would like to know who decides that poets are *better* than, for example, science fiction writers and that's certainly got nothing to do with money because poets are notoriously poor.

    I just googled Karl Marx. I'm not sure if it's relevant but he once apparently said "The writer must earn money in order to be able to live and to write, but he must by no means live and write for the purpose of making money." [I can feel another blog coming on!]

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  10. I respect any writer who makes a living from his/her work, regardless of genre. I suppose this means that for me 'monety talks'? Not always, but IMO it's a pretty gOod measure of success and poularity. Of course I also respect talent even if it hasn't been 'discovered' - so hope that makes me pretty incusive! The blog thing is interesting. In a 'dry' writing period I continue to blog but get the impression this doesn't cut much ice with non-blogging writing friends. Again, is it a money thing? Print pays and is therefore respected? But bloggers who get published commercially make the jump, but may still be looked down on 'It was only a blog' - ie ephemeral/lighweight, so yes, genre snobbery again. But I think the problem with blogs is that lots of people, especially less IT-literate, simply don't 'get' the new media. A case of 'can't blog, won't blog'?

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  11. What a brilliant post Rosalind... you should send it in to a newspaper so that all those 'literary' snobs might get the message!

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  12. To me, as long as I am enjoying what I'm reading what does it matter if its a blog or chick lit. Keep up the blog Ros. It gives people (like me) pleasure. Love Karan X

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  13. Hi Alison, you're so right about the less IT-literate. I'd love to sit them all down and show them how easy, enjoyable and informative it is.

    Thanks Barbara, I might well try that but I rather suspect there are newspaper editors out there who fall quite heavily into the category of 'literary' snobs.

    Hi Karan, I'm delighted you enjoy reading my blog. Thanks so much for the feedback.

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  14. Ros,
    As usual you hit the nail on the head - we may have lost some of our class divisions according to what people wear or what car they drive - but instead we have it in the form of what work they choose to do and which "rung of the corporate ladder" they are on.
    It isn't just with writers, I see it in every career/ profession.
    Compare the respect shown to a kindergarten teacher as opposed to a university professor despite the fact that studies show the tremendous importance of a child's first years.
    I remember hearing a wonderful story which illustrates this so well ( I can't think where I heard it)
    A war film was being made and a lot of extras were hired for the crowd scenes in the army base.
    During the breaks in the filming it was noted that all the "officers" gathered together and ate at one table whereas the small group of "corporals" ate on their own somewhere else. All of them were extras from the same agency but their 'uniform' already divided them up in hierarchy.

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  15. So many interesting points here. Your point about blogging particularly caught my eye. I'm interested in blogging as a new writing form - a new genre - with its own conventions. As a writer, I find it keeps my writing arm in - with its improvised qualities - but it's more than just a 'warm-up' for 'real' writing.

    It has its own demands and stylistic tics and the immediacy of the writer/ reader address is one of them. Picking up perhaps from the style of mag. feature articles but equally, it can be quite literary too - poetic even. It's a very flexible form that varies so much in function, audience and voice. And I think writer friends will eventually stumble in and enjoy because like so many new media forms, it's becoming part of our everyday discourse.

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  16. Hi Ann. The story about those extras being divided by their uniform and the parts they were playing is almost too strange to believe. Thanks for sharing it.

    I agree, Siobhan, that blogging is a new and quite flexible genre that deserves its growing popularity.

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  17. Wow, that's an amazing amount of snobbery, and not something you would expect of writers. So much for "we're all creative people"!

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  18. Thanks for the visit and follow, Merrilee. From your comment does that mean that 'literary snobs' (to borrow Barbara's phrase) don't exist in Australia?

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  19. Oh I'm sure they do! I've just never encountered it. And I have a number of writer friends who write for kids, for teens, who write erotica and romance. It would never occur to me that they are any less "writers".

    How do you handle that sort of thing? Do you attempt to educate the snob in question, or do you just shrug and move on? How often do you find yourself being categorised like that?

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  20. I've long ago learnt, Merrilee, that trying to educate snobs is not worth the effort but the problem as I see it is that this kind of snobbery is more deeply embedded in the heart of the UK publishing industry. It's something we all have to live with.

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  21. I've come to it late, Rosalind, but I really enjoyed this post. Very thought-provoking. I know my own husband considers my forays into genre fiction to be "fluff" and beneath me, which is distressing because I really enjoy reading those novels, myself. ;) I asked him once if he'd ever even read one, and the answer, of course, is no. We are all too ready to have our opinions handed to us, and that includes me in many areas.

    As for poets being the highest class, I am friends with a very fine, regularly-published poet -- who lives on a shoestring budget and struggles with heartbreaking medical problems and no health insurance. I think she'd get a wry laugh out of that one.

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