On Writing for Yourself, or, “I Don’t F&@#ing Care If You Like It.”

…There were always a lot of noisy “comedy bits” going on [in the SNL writer’s room.] Amy [Poehler] was in the middle of some such nonsense with Seth Meyers across the table, and she did something vulgar. I can’t remember what it was exactly, except it was dirty and loud and “unladylike.” Jimmy Fallon, who was arguably the star of the show at the time, turned to her and in a faux-squeamish voice said, “Stop that! It’s not cute! I don’t like it.”

Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him. “I don’t fucking care if you like it.” Jimmy was visibly startled. Amy went right back to enjoying her ridiculous bit. (I should make it clear that Jimmy and Amy are very good friends and there was never any real beef between them…) With that exchange, a cosmic shift took place. Amy made it clear that she wasn’t there to be cute. She wasn’t there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys’ scenes. She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not fucking care if you liked it.

Scrolling through Tumblr today, I saw a linked post from my friend Janine Spendlove on writers, self-promotion, and sexism. Specifically, it highlights the treatment of several female writers who have had the audacity to promote their work and brand, as part of crafting a successful writing career. (Pearl-clutching!) These talented authors, because they don’t write x/didn’t write about y/should have written about z because it’s quote-unquote better than their personal, original idea — and because these women dare to draw attention to their work so it will sell— get a lot of crap from internet trolls, general mouthbreathers, and the crackpot convention outliers who show up to public forums to personally heckle the people they don’t like.

This, to me, is a perfect example of why putting work out into the world is so damn scary. I am a self-described perfectionist. I don’t like being judged. And yet, when I write a story and submit it for publication, I am inviting someone to criticize it, whether that’s an editor or some anonymous Goodreads commenter who thinks female authors promoting themselves is gross.

But to those anonymous commenters, let me say: a writer promoting their writing — whether they are traditionally published, self-published, a media-tie-in-author, a fanfiction author — is part of the damn job. Getting physical threats, derisive comments, and condescending remarks because they don’t fit into the space one single person believes they ought to occupy in the worldview isn’t. And, additionally, if anyone out there actually believes they have the right to threaten or assault someone who expresses an opinion that isn’t their own? Take a long walk off a short cliff. Don’t let the rocks hit you on the way down.

That linked Tumblr post, as horrible and ugly as it is, also serves as a perfect example of the reason that we all should keep writing. Because in the end, your work is not for the morons who tell you you aren’t “real,” or aren’t good enough, or are too “much” of one random and tangential quality to have any talent with words. It’s for you, the author. Ultimately, you are the creator and the curator of your own world. Nobody else gets to tell you what to write, or how to write it. As Neil Gaiman said recently in a forum giving advice to aspiring artists, nobody else will make the art that you will make.

The blockquote which began this post, from Tina Fey’s book Bossypants, is something that I personally kept in mind while writing my last short fiction piece. Because in the end, all writers have a choice. Am I going to be honest with myself, and write what I want, what I’m passionate about, what I love? Or am I going to spend my writing career trying desperately to churn out a story that “everyone” likes (hint — IT’S A TRAP) and how I can deliver on a pipe dream? When finishing my short story, I wrote Amy’s quote at the top of my margin for the last few days. It’s mine, and I like it, and ultimately that’s all that matters. I’ll need help remembering that once the crazies start flocking in.

So, finish your art. Finish your story. It’s not going to be perfect, but don’t let the bastards grind you down.

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