How Do I Get More Respect for My Work?
Quoth R-E-S-P-E-C-T: I’ve been working at my craft awhile now and sold some stories to decent places, but nobody seems to be taking me or my work seriously. What can I do to change that?
Fun fact about me, R-E-S-P-E-C-T: I almost never reveal to strangers or coworkers that I’m a writer. Sometimes they figure it out, especially at work where I’m lucky to have some ardent advocates, but I don’t bring it up.
Why not? Because in neurotic rebellion to growing up with a father who was an inveterate shit-talker and self-aggrandizer, I’ve come to believe that if I have to tell you how awesome I am, I’m not awesome enough.
This attitude has done wonders for my career, as you can imagine.
Yet the alternative, telling people why I’m worthy of their attention and esteem, feels far worse. Not so much from a sense of natural modesty but because nothing I say can take the place of what I do. Sooner or later, I have to pony up with good writing so I might as well start there.
In other words, I can’t tell you to enjoy my work.
I’ve done readings to an empty room (and once to a vision-impaired person who realized he was in the wrong place). I’ve been left behind by my hosts on the way to a writer’s event where I was a guest. I’ve been asked at signings not to personalize my autograph so the books are easier to sell.
None of those make me want to leap out of bed and write another story, I’ll tell you.
But each time before these events, I mutter this to myself:
“They may not know who I am before I read, but they sure as shit will after I do.”
And it’s usually true. One of my favorite things is to provoke the “who the fuck was that?” response in people who came to see someone else, and I’d rather sneak up on my audience than club them over the heads like baby seals.
Steve Martin has said that your only hope is to “be so good they can’t ignore you,” and Cal Newport has written an interesting book on the concept. That’s basically my point of view too, though it’s easy to take it to mean that artistic virtue alone will bring you the audience you “deserve.”
It won’t. The reality of the creative marketplace is that, yes, you have to do things that declare your ongoing commitment as a “creative,” but I do as few of them as possible. Maybe too few, if you ask my publisher.
The question you have to ask yourself, R-E-S-P-E-C-T, is whether your writing exists to make you a writer, or if you are a writer to make your writing exist.
It’s a subtle distinction. One is a path of inevitable narcissistic disappointment where you can never write enough to “feel” like a writer. The other is also a path of inevitable disappointment, but at least the work is more important than you are.
Keep working on things that are worthy of respect. Become famous with one reader at a time.