The long gap between guest posts is not the failure of my readers to provide them, but my incompetence in putting them up. Without further ado, here’s another one, this time from Steve of the real-life Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy! (Thanks for keeping my blog alive, guys. You’re all awesome.)
People have perceptions that they like to keep hold of, and these stereotypes can really get you down if you let them. The thing is, don’t let them.
When I was at school, many moons ago now, I wasn’t allowed to do English Literature at GCSE level because I wasn’t doing well at English Language. To this day I still have trouble remembering the difference between a noun and a verb, and I have real trouble with tenses. So, I was told I was doing English Language because I legally had to, but wasn’t going to be entered for English Literature.
Now, to a young teenager who read three or four books a week and had already gone through the entire science fiction section of his own and the neighbouring school libraries, that was a bit of a kicker. But the stereotype was there in the mind of my teacher, because I didn’t know the difference between a noun and a verb, I was obviously rubbish at writing.
It was only a few years after that however that I saw that same teacher in the audience for a play I’d written, and afterwards overheard him in the theatre bar saying how well the writer must have understood the deeper concepts that Shakespeare was trying to get across. The play was a modernisation of Hamlet, and this was before the infamous Romeo & Juliet remake, yes, I’m that old. Had I really understood Hamlet? I don’t think so, I just wrote what I felt was right, and had friends who thought it was worth forming a theatre company and hiring the space to produce it.
The point is though; this teacher couldn’t at the time get over his idea that someone unable to grasp the technicalities of language wouldn’t be able to write. But later on was proved wrong by his own blind admission. If he knew it was me that wrote the play, I doubt he’d even have come along to see it.
More recently there’s been a bit of a furore about pseudonyms, especially around J.K.Rowling. Here is an author who shot to fame and fortune for writing the Harry Potter books. Love them or hate them, regardless of what you think of the stories or the way they were written, they were very popular and were read by a lot of people. When she wrote The Casual Vacancy, that had nothing to do with Harry Potter , it got slated by the critics. Why? Because it was judged against the Harry Potter books. Everything she writes from about the third book in the series onwards, once it started getting popular, will be judged against those, and will be found wanting. Simply because it’s not in the same style. So she tried writing under a pseudonym. The book didn’t really sell, but it wasn’t panned either. In fact it wasn’t really reviewed much, but the reviews it did get were favourable, but still it sold less than five hundred copies according to The Bookseller, which for a book being pushed out through a publishing house is quite a small number. (Ed: I have read different stats EVERYWHERE. The point is, 500 or 1000, it’s not a bestseller.) But what it did provide her with though was honest feedback from those who did read it. Because it wasn’t being compared against any of her previous work, it was judged on its own merit.
This is something that is getting harder and harder, your writing being judged on its own merit. In our society where everything is online and connected, it gets harder and harder to produce something that isn’t attached to you as an individual. There’s fewer and fewer websites you can go to and get people to read your work and be honest about it. People who like you will always say nice things, people who don’t like you will always say nasty things, both will say these regardless of whether it’s deserved or not. Only totally unbiased strangers will be honest, and even then you get bias based on perceived stereotypes. Tell someone a story was written by a schoolgirl and they’ll instantly think it’s going to be soppy crud about crushes on boys. Tell someone a novel was written by teenage boy, and they’ll instantly assume it’s full of fights or sport. This is utter rubbish. The problem is though, that’s how the stereotype sits in their minds.
The thing to do is ignore it. There’s several writing based sites out there where you can retain anonymity or ‘pseudonymity’, use them. Don’t let people know anything about you, let your work speak for itself. Let people judge your writing on how it reads, not on who wrote it. And if you like it, what does it matter anyway?
Steve is the Digital Lead at the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (www.h2g2.com) as well as the chairman of Field Researchers Ltd who oversee the day to day running of the site, the author of the forthcoming Endangered Creatures (www.nopandas.com) and can usually be found on Twitter ranting about beer or computers (@pasteyh2g2)
Go forth and be encouraged to write, my readers!
(More guest posts are always appreciated – I have two more to put up, but would appreciate any contributions due to my hands still not being healed.)