There’s nothing special about being a writer

Taylor Swift visited New Zealand last week, provoking a small media frenzy but not attracting particular attention.

Outside Bag End on the Hobbiton Movie set.
A sign I’d like to put outside my house… (and yes, I could have bought a copy of the poster…)

Nobody much cares about celebrity status here. I mean, they’re normal people doing a job, like everybody else. I’m sure they think so too. As for anybody locally who pokes their head up – well, on my own experience, that reduces them to what we call ‘dog tucker’.

A few years ago, I was asked by someone bought up in California whether I had fans as a result of having been published by Penguin, Random House, etc, over many years, hitting the New Zealand best-selling lists and so on. ‘No,’ I said. ‘I have no fans. Just people who hate me for writing.’

Actually that’s not entirely true. I still have the heart-felt letter that arrived after I wrote a book in 2003. There was also the time my wife and I were both fielding calls from old soldiers supporting me when the local military-historical in-crowd went psycho-atomic apeshit at me because I’d written a biography of Sir Bernard Freyberg. And I ran into someone the other week at a book launch who seemed very excited to meet me. He was, it turned out, someone whose hobby was photographing historians, and did I want to make a time to be photographed? I didn’t.  I absolutely do not define myself as a historian – it’s one of the things I do, not what I am. Besides which, I had visions of my mug-shot being pinned to a wall, butterfly-collector fashion, for whatever purpose he was taking photos of the people he got excited over.

But for the most part people who like my stuff never get in touch, and the only feedback I get is negative. It’s hard to write a book without fielding at least one letter that begins ‘I liked your book, but on page …’ What counts is everything following the ‘but’, and sometimes they get very personal and very nasty. That’s why I was unnerved a while back when one of these ‘anti-fan’ letters arrived at my home address – which my publishers hadn’t provided. Another time, somebody else knocked at my front door, looking for ‘the historian’ who he’d heard lived there. Yup, I’d been stalked. Ouch. (‘You John Lennon?’ *bang*).

The reality? Writers write because they like writing. The end. People who write because they want to be important or famous, or because they validate their self-worth from the status publishing gives them with their peer group – well, they are in the field for totally the wrong reasons. That is not what writing is about.

As for ending up elevated by others? Well, I don’t know how others think, but for me it’s an unwanted side effect, and I’d rather sit at home playing Kerbal Space Program (and yes, it IS rocket science).


Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015


17 thoughts on “There’s nothing special about being a writer

  1. Re your statement, “I absolutely do not define myself as a historian – it’s one of the things I do, not what I am.”: May I offer a correction? You are a historian; though you are not only a historian, it is one of the things that you are. What you are not is history; it is history that is just one of the things that you do.

    So too with being a writer: you are a writer; though you are not only a writer, it is one of the things that you are. What you are not is writing; it is writing that is just one of the things that you do.

    (In case you ever thought you were too pedantic.)

  2. We have a mountain of celebrities here whose lone claim to fame is they accidentally became celebrities. In other words, they figured-out a way to extend their 15 minutes of fame indefinitely. They’re what I’d call celebrity zombies…forever walking red carpets and having their picture taken so couch potatoes everywhere can envy their pointless lives. Given our surplus I’ll send you a boatload. “America’s greatness” is now devoted to monitoring their activities instead of—oh, I don’t know—doing something great?

    I think celebrity status would be great—for about 15 minutes. It’d then become a pointless cancer that’d work at consuming what I want to spend my time doing: writing. Writing is a passion and it’s a burden, a burden I’ve tried several times to surrender, but it never works out. I can’t NOT write. The ideas come anyway and unless I go through the process that releases them they consume me.

      1. Yes, I recall reading some of your posts over time that highlighted this issue, it’s good you write in this alternative world too, where there certainly are more fans than haters. Bonne Continuation, you do indeed have many fans and followers and will continue to do so. The majority of them are and will remain silent but worthy appreciaters.

    1. We get the same in New Zealand – as in the same celebrity culture in the media and the same celebrities we are meant to be interested in for some reason. But it isn’t applied to Kiwis who do well. There has to be a happy medium… somewhere.

  3. Well, in Canada, we have lots of literary celebrities. People pay big bucks to go to writers’ conferences where they might have an encounter with the famous. Getting interviewed on the CBC (public broadcaster) is a great honour; an interviewer asks you what inspired you latest novel, hangs on your every word. Heady stuff! Some CanLit celebs: Alice Munro (Nobel Prize a couple of years ago), Margaret Atwood (if you refer to her as “Peg,” you’re one of the anointed). But writing in the hope of attracting adulation is foolish. I doubt if either of these two had that motive.

    1. I’m sure they didn’t. It’s the same here – I’ve met plenty of other writers here in NZ, many of them a good deal more famous and important than I ever will be, and they’re all perfectly ordinary people.

  4. Reblogged this on quirkywritingcorner and commented:
    I write because I enjoy writing. I also loved being a nurse, but those days are over. Being a wife, mother and grandmother are great, but I’m not sure how great I am with any of it. Some say I write well, others aren’t so sure. I’ll keep writing and let God handle my success. 🙂

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