Only If Real Life as an Editor or Writer Was as Glamorous as TV Depictions

It is surprising how non-writers in my life perceive my profession as a writer/editor. I’m both. For the sake of this post, I’m including both writing and editing together though they are different skill sets. I find the perceptions of writers and publishing professionals amusing. 

There were people in my life who thought my writerly life meant going to sophisticated events and talking sophisticated things with sophisticated people. (Their words, not mine!) How flattering? I love going out. I can’t think of anybody more fun to hang out with than writers. It’s interesting that my acquaintances did not think of writers as oddballs but sophisticated. I could thank pop-culture for glamorizing publishing.

There’s the character Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and The City, a writer who wears designer fashion and able to get into every gaudy event in NYC and the “cool girl.” Most writers I know aren’t like Carrie but more like that nerdy sidekick Skipper from the same show. Or maybe the weird girl like Daria. If TV characters came to life and if I could choose to hang out with either Carrie or Daria, I’d take Daria in a heartbeat.  

Recently, I’ve been watching Sex and The City, because when that show first came out I was discouraged from watching it. At that time, I was part of a evangelical religious cult and as a born-again, spirit-filled Christian, I should pursue a life of purity and godliness. That meant avoiding any hint of immorality from dancing, watching TV shows that glorify sin, drinking, dating, and so much more. Everyone in the cult peer-pressured each other into conformity. That is in my past. Life after faith means living on my own terms. I only watched the first few episodes and my impression is: four shallow, self-obsessed, privileged (and somewhat desperate) women living life in the city and all about nothing but self-indulgent navel-gazing. But occasionally they do reveal some painful truth, witty lines, and hilarious “adventures.” Frank talk about female sexuality has always been a taboo, so that is why the show was a big deal. There were funny moments and candid observations about men, women, and of course sex and relationships. My favorite characters were Miranda and Charlotte, because of their funny lines. It is an escapist type of show. I don’t mind watching it if there’s nothing else to watch. It isn’t as “dirty” as people make it out to be. It’s a show meant for adults not children or those unable to handle the topic of sex (which is no different from any other topic). Overall, the show was mostly hype. 

Image Source: Scary Mommy

Image Source: Scary Mommy

Writers Living Lavish Lives. The most laughable part of the show is that Carrie Bradshaw is able to afford a large-sized apartment in Manhattan and live a lavish lifestyle with a job as a columnist. There are other shows depicting women in publishing such as The Bold Type and Younger. All seem to have one thing in common: those in writing and publishing living well above their means. Wouldn’t it be nice to forget the reality and simply immerse yourself in materialism, the supposed measure of success? 

We should all know that it’s just a TV show depicting a fantasy. However, looks like Christine Lennon, a fashion writer did not get the memo.

She wrote a ridiculous article for Wall Street journal on what to wear when you work from home. Her article suggested giving up sweatpants for luxury fashion, and her fashion picks included a pair of $4,160  earrings and a $138 blouse. I mean come on, a Prada bag is absolutely necessary when carrying pens from one room to another. Since we all know the importance of making first impressions on Skype interview or meeting clients and peers in a coffee shop, luxury jewelry will surely impress. In Lennon’s own words from the article, “When I have a Skype interview, I reach for a pair of gold statement earrings, a Kosas lipstick and a fashion-y blouse from Isabel Marant or Dries Van Noten.”  This article was the joke among writers, editors, and freelancers who live in reality. Of course, WSJ was asking to be trolled. Could someone be so out of touch that it’s almost offensive? 

Whatever happened to the image of “starving artist” when it comes to writers. A starving artist is probably not as sexy for TV as a lavish playgirl.

Take a look at the photos of New York Times bestselling authors or Pulitzer-Prize winning authors. Have you noticed any designer bags, luxury jewelry, or designer clothes on them? When was the last time you saw an author featured in a fashion magazine as a style icon? The reality is that writers and freelancers come from all backgrounds and diverse backgrounds. An article advising outfits for only 1-2% of the freelance population is what makes it absurd.

Is ability to afford a pair of earrings worth more than the average mortgage payment a symbol of success? Not. Lennon could have suggested outfits of varying price points to be more inclusive (and ahem! realistic). And implying that women are materialistic nitwits who cannot manage a budget is misogyny. This misogyny parallels in Sex and The City where grown women are portrayed as children who spend $40K on shoes but discover they can’t afford an apartment. I don’t understand why that is feminist. The line from Carrie pouting, “I spent $40K on shoes and have no place to live. I will literally be the old woman who lived in her shoes” is hysterical.

I laughed but also thinking, Carrie, you’re an idiot! But thanks for the laugh. Sigh, and your friend enables your problem by loaning you money. Damn it! My friends would kill me with verbal chastising if I told them I couldn’t afford an apartment because I spent too much on shoes. Like a true friend, they’d stab me in the front with the harsh truth. 

The idea of treating yourself does not mean living beyond your means. I was thrilled when I got this tweed jacket from White House Black Market on sale! I haven’t worn tweed before and wanted to try it. simple, practical, and nice. Only later, it occured to me that tweed is associated with academia and somewhat writerly. Though image is nothing. Call me silly, but maybe someday I see myself wearing this tweed sweater over black pants or the matching outfit while presenting at a writers conference. 

Success does not mean living like a material girl. That isn’t the idea of success to most writers I know. It’s about having a sphere of influence. I could enjoy time with people over a Pabst beer or a fancy martini. It’s about quality people and good times. 

Realistically though, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2010 writers and authors earned a median salary of $55,420 per year or $26.64 per hour. That’s slightly below average middle class income. 

Sorry Carrie, no Manolos for you! 

Writing is Effortless. TV world makes it sound as though the creative process is effortless as brushing your teeth. Who wouldn’t love an easy talent, an easy way to make money? Writing isn’t sorcery or conjuring the perfect words like magic? Again, this is escapist fantasy not reality. 

One time, a person wrote on his facebook years ago. This is a common misconception that I have heard that thought before. Don’t attack this guy. He’s a good person with good intentions. He’s not the only one with this idea. Many others have expressed similar notions. This idea is not only untrue but undermines artists and creative professionals. It’s not only infantilizing but fails to recognize the hard work and skill of professional artists. If he was making a point about education (which needs reform), could he have made his point about the state of education without undermining artists? Engineers too need creativity to problem-solve and help improve society. Bad education can destroy the problem-solving type of creativity too. 

Let me challenge this urban myth. All children are also born Einsteins. Children also have the innate nature of curiosity and exploration. Yet, do we all become scientists? Or romanticize the potential of all of us becoming scientists? No. So why do we assume that all can retain the child-like nature and become artists? Children have the potential for learning different skills. As I grew up, I became more interested in literature and writing. I ended up taking advanced courses and continually growing as a writer. No one becomes a writer overnight. 

The implication that artists only need a childhood imagination is BS. Anyone can create. But as a mature, adult artist, discipline, and fine tuning techniques are needed too. A child can make up cute stories. An adult writer too can makeup stories and come up with ideas in the first draft. But if the goal is to publish, writers need to sharpen their writing skills, learn the art and science of revision, which includes effective sentence writing and grammar. 

Sadly, as an editor I have run into people who may get tired of their life, be facing midlife crisis, or always wanted to write a book. Nothing wrong with that. Then there are people with personal issues with an axe to grind or a narcissist wanting undeserved attention. They write but their writing needs significant improvement. Editors can help improve writing but cannot resurrect poor, subpar writing. It’s equivalent to expecting a sound technician/engineer to turn a newbie singer’s recording into that of a professional opera singer. And let’s say that newbie has less than one year training in voice and not much experience other than karaoke. Is it impossible? Of course not! But she has a long path to reach her goal as a professional opera singer with a role in a esteemed opera house. 

For a book editor, It’s tough to tell someone that they need writing classes not an editor. Some people have unrealistic ideas and expectations of writing and publishing their novel. I don’t want to be elitist. Yet, I want them to be aware of what it takes to publish a book. Book publishing is highly competitive but not impossible. 

Writing takes effort, work, discipline, and studying writing techniques, but there you reap satisfaction. Thus, all that work is worthwhile. That is why writers do what they do. However, the reality of hard work is not as sexy as effortless penning down thoughts that gets paid gigs. 

Writing is Self-Indulgent Navel Gazing. Carrie’s writing seems to be like journal entries. Everyone is interested in her personal life—even the most mundane matters. The best kind of research for Carrie’s writing is her dating adventures with sex. I’d be thrilled if sex was “research material” for writing, and I’m sure my husband would willingly offer himself up as a test subject. This isn’t what writing is all about, especially for memoirs and personal essays. 

Memoirs are not self-indulgent navel gazing. They should reveal some universal truths through your personal experience and topics that your readers can relate to. Would anyone care about your self-pity, pouting, or axe to grind? That is not writing. That’s annoying. Save those rants for your diary or blog. You may have a story to share and believe in its power. Well, so do a million other individuals. What will make your story stand out among a large crowd of people who are just as intelligent, experienced, and unique as you? The harsh truth is that unless you are a celebrity or have a unique, signature writing style, memoirs are difficult to sell. 

Life would be grand I could make money from writing diary entries for even the most mundane things. But, that is not how I can make a living out of writing. I’m not a memoir writer at all. I prefer fiction.

Readers want well-crafted writing with developed characters, interesting and engaging writing, and cleverly crafted sentences. That takes a lot more than daily ruminations. 

Grub Street Writers Conference 2015

Writers Partying With All the Important People. A writer’s life or anyone in publishing has a glamourous life of going to these parties with important people—especially plenty of attractive, single men and women. When I was younger and single, I went to many writers events and it’s mostly women of all types and a few men. And most dress like hipsters. No offense to hipsters. They are cool but I don’t find that look attractive. But no gorgeous, single, available men (who are of my interest) to be found.  

Dang it. That’s reality. Instead, I end up looking online or elsewhere. Most the men I’ve met were outside my writing and editor circles. The guys I’ve dated are not writers but fascinated by my writing and supportive. By the way, I’m now married and I found my husband online on OKCupid. 

As for important people, again that depends on the definition. I don’t really see it that way. People are people whether the CEO of one of the Big 5 publishers (soon to be Big 4 if the major acquisition happens) or a bartender. All depends on character and connection. Are they fun? Interesting? Make life better? In TV land, the important people again embody the shallow ideals of success: an important job title, designer labels, and living lavishly. Pfft!  

In real life, I look forward to conferences and events because I love to hear from like-minded individuals of all walks of life. And I have my fair share of parties (which are now on Zoom). But most writers spend most of their time writing. Or marketing/promotions and the business side of writing. 

I’m still surprised that not many people lately think of writers as eccentric or starving writers. Only a few do. Some of my ambitious extended family members think I’m nuts for pursuing writing instead of something practical. 

In a way, I’m glad that the media does not romanticize “eccentric” or mental illness by implying that a by-product of madness is creative prowess. Again, another urban myth. The truth according to science is that creative people have higher rates of mental illness. However it doesn’t work in reverse. People with mental illness do not tend to score higher in creativity. 

The romanticized and glamourous depictions of writers (and maybe those in publishing) is really about constant search for happiness or the dream. American culture is all about continually pursuing happiness. With that search for happiness, there’s a tendency to romanticize and daydream. Escapism only speaks to that desire of wanting more. There’s nothing wrong in wanting more or being a perpetual seeker. However, I prefer to define success in my own terms. I’m satisfied with my life as ordinary Indu, the writer and editor. 

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