One of the more unique aspects of writing is the way people associate themselves and their identities with their words on the page. People don't just spend time in the evening reflecting on the capricious vicissitudes of life and/or zombie killers from another planet. It somehow becomes more than that.
You can see this in the way people talk about writing: some people compare it to oxygen, i.e. something that they can't live without. They don't say, "I like to write, it's fun, I enjoy it." They say, unequivocally, "I am a writer. It's who I am."
I'm going to be honest here and say that while I don't judge people when they define themselves as writer, whatever their publication status, I find it a little unsettling when they make it an overly intrinsic part of their identity.
First of all, people just don't tend to define themselves by their hobbies. You don't hear anyone shout to the rafters, "I AM STAMP COLLECTOR!" or "I AM A CONNOISSEUR OF REALITY TELEVISION!" And until you're making a living at it, writing is a hobby. It's something you do in your spare time. (Right?)
Let’s put aside the phrase “overly intrinsic” for a moment, which is kind of like saying “darkly opaque.” But how on earth is a person who thinks writing is a hobby supposed to separate good writing from crap? Writing is a vocation. Great art is an expression of a person’s soul – and an expression of the audience’s soul as well. To say you can achieve that in a mere hobby is seriously not understanding what it takes to create art. And if you don’t understand that writing’s a hell of a lot deeper than a hobby, you’re never going to be able to recognize writing that has any longevity.
Have I created a great work of art? I can’t say I have, but I know what it is to believe in writing like it’s a religion. I know that I write to reach beyond myself, not to pass the time. And if you’re not trying to do that, chances are you’re not writing something worth reading. It also implies that writing only becomes a vocation when you make a living at it. This is gatekeeper-think: that the gate is more important than the process.
Do I take rejection too close to heart? Absolutely. This entry is anger-filled in a way that I wouldn’t be if I’d been readily accepted by the publishing establishment. But I have such limited faith in that happening that ideas like this go very deep under my skin. I don't like seeing the system die. This is regressive thinking: it’s just art. Art matters. To say otherwise is actually kind of tragic.
Unsurprisingly, the entry has a bunch of cheerleaders. One of the curious things about the popular agent blogs is that they’re populated by people who write commercial fiction:
I think of my writing as a product, so I don't take it so personally when I et rejected. when you're producing widgets off an assembly line, it's hard to get all choked up when when of 'em doesn't sell, because you know there's another one about to fall off the line.
That’s a real comment, not a parody of a comment. The entry is an embarrassment, but I’m glad that it was written. It makes me believe more and more that I shouldn’t put my literary future in the hands of people who don’t understand what drives me as a writer.
I’m sure there are agents out there who understand that agents like this are lightweights, who understand that writing’s deeply important. But these are the agents that are the most vocal online and have the biggest fan club. Hopefully the old school agents aren't a dying breed.