Thursday, May 3, 2012

Don't Ask Me, I Just Notice Things

Isn't it odd, how few people take an accurate view of their own activities?

"I'm not a writer," One says. "I only keep a journal, and a couple of blogs, one for knitting and one for my game...and a couple of newsgroups I'm a regular on." Exclusive of e-mail contacts and writing memos at work, this "not writing" she does adds up to a production of about 10,000 words per week. One is a writer; One is writing. What she's not doing is striving after publication, and what do you want to bet that's because she thinks she's not a writer, not because her writing isn't publishable?

"I'm a writer," Two says. "I go to all the conferences and subscribe to all the blogs and I can't find an agent." But if you ask to see what Two has written, she won't show you anything. Instead she'll talk about the 15-volume paranormal romance/family saga she has planned. Two is not a writer. Two has a hobby of attending writing conferences and reading writing blogs, but in actual writing she produces maybe seven hundred words a year. She types out more than that, but mostly they're a rechurning and rearranging of words she's already written. She repeats herself a lot. If she does have a work in progress, it has been the same work at the same approximate level of progress for the last 15 years.

It does not puzzle me that people have an ideal image in their head of what a real writer (or artist, or seamstress, or knitter, or parent, or...) is, and can't bring themselves to think of themselves in those terms if they don't match the ideal image - which, face it, nobody does. That's why it's called an ideal. We all do this. For some of us ideals are goals we strive for and for some of us they're impossible cloud castles whose impossibility both oppresses us and frees us from the labor of trying to reach them.

It's the other class of people, the ones who assume that they've met the ideal by fiat; that by labeling themselves as a writer (or artist, or ...) and socializing with writers and talking about writing, they've become a writer and the actual work is doing itself somehow. I don't understand either how they think this is going to work, or how they can maintain their belief in the assumed identity in the face of all the stuff that they don't do.

Fortunately there's a middle ground of people who can see themselves clearly and adapt their behavior accordingly. But it's hard to get there, and harder to stay. The evolutionary benefit of this behavior is not obvious to me; though it's true that, in a social setting, there are certain ideal identities that, if assumed and imposed with sufficient force on the people around you, do provide a distinct advantage. A lot of politics through history has boiled down to people with delusions of competence taking credit for the actions of blind chance or of uncharismatic people with real competence. But in daily life it's annoying as heck and ought to make us more likely to starve or be murdered by someone who is frustrated by our continual failure to produce anything solid.

People are weird. In the end, we just have to live with that.

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