This is a list of worries that Marlee Jane Ward, award winning writer, thought I should post about. In the hope that it would help. So here we go.
I worry about a lot of things as a writer.
I worry about a lot of things anyway.
And after a week of funding and job cuts for both the arts and journalism, I am more worried.
Here’s what I worry about along with some ranting – perhaps you can relate. They may be unfounded or not – the point is I worry about all this stuff.
TW: possible triggering with mentions of patriarchy, racism and bias.
Let me know if you worry about them too or if you have any antidotes to these worries in the comments.
- I worry that being a female writer and a female writer of colour that I won’t be able to get my work published. I worry that if I do, I will be the token writer shuffled out by said publisher to illustrate that yes of course they believe in equal representation for all.Which is why I love hearing about people like Sulari Gentill and Maxine Beneba Clarke getting published but…
- … I worry that some (hopefully not all) publishers will want me to write the sort of stories that Maxine and Sulari and others do because they have proven that they can win prizes and sell well and they write really well but I am me, not a Sulari, not a Maxine and I can only write the sort of stories that I can write. And so if my stories are different and they probably will be, to certain publishers they still may seem like unknowns that no one feels comfy about betting on.
I worry that I will be asked to exoticise or stereotype any POC characters.
Because hey my stories will have Sri Lankan characters in them who aren’t going to be all about the war or asylum seekers or the tsunami but that’s what people have come to expect them to be about when they come across them in Australian stories. And Sri Lankans, like any other nationality, like Australians, are about more than their national issues and tragedies and histories – there are Sri Lankan asylum seekers but there are also Sri Lankan artists, teachers, scientists and people who are pretty much normal at the end of the day.
- I have already heard it and I worry that I will continue to hear it – that an Australian audience for Australian work will be unable to relate or care about or find stories with foreign characters in them relevant. So why don’t I write about Australians?I can only write the stories I can write and when I do have characters I spend a lot of time and care trying to ensure they are fully developed and not in any way typecast by nationality or any other grouping and this goes for Sri Lankan characters as much as other characters. I worry a lot about how I am representing the characters as it is and I am highly unlikely to want to write a story where I am writing about a culture I am not entirely familiar with. I have seen other well meaning writers make this mistake and I come from a place with colonial history so I know how erroneous and biased writing can be when an outsider writes about something they don’t have knowledge of and assigns meaning as they do. How horrible would it be for me to commit the same error?
- I worry about inherent unconscious bias against my name. I love my name. But I have been told that it might be easier for me to get published under a pseudonym. And then the example of George Elliott was pointed out to me. But the problem with that example was that she, being a white female, picked a white male name. I could perhaps be ok with the genderbending of this and pick an equally Sri Lankan name like perhaps Ashok Ferry (except I cannot because there already is an Ashok Ferry) because then I would, like Elliott, be going from female to male only. If you thought patriarchy doesn’t exist, there you go.
For me to have to change my culture AND my gender in order to just get my manuscript read by people who don’t want their worldview offended or upended in the slightest and yet claim that they are for diversity just seems wrong to me. I love my name, it reminds me of my dad and even changing it to my mother’s more European name seems like a step too far. I am mixed heritage writing in my first language of English and if some publishers want to not have me be mixed heritage/writing in English then they need to build a time machine and go back and stop Europeans from embarking on colonisation. Since that can’t happen, shut up and accept the reality already that we are here and writing. And yes we are writing in English. That language your ancestors taught us because they thought our ones weren’t good enough. And if you can say Schwarzenegger and manage Pfeiffer, Wikramanayake is a walk in the park and you have no excuse.
- I worry, and this is weird so let me explain this: I worry that for all the above reasons and others it is going to take so long to get my work published that anyone who was reasonably excited about my book writing at any one point is going to be totally over it and I won’t have an audience or support if and when it finally does happen.Which is why I think it is crucial that non-POC writers etc who are all for diversity, keep up to their claims and help support and promote their fellow POC/CALD/disabled/LGBTQIA authors and writers. If you are lucky enough to be published and mainstream or have an audience, please introduce them to other writers and diverse work so they get used to seeing us and find it normal and there is a demand that flows through to all publishers.Part of this I fear is because maybe I will be the new Sri Lankan author to make it internationally and be some sort of wunderkid but quite probably maybe I won’t. Let’s not bank on it, ok – it will probably make me all sorts of uncomfy anyway.
I used to write a weekly column and a lot of people would meet me and lie straight to my face that they read it. So there may be a lot of claiming perhaps but not actual doing and maybe I am now past the point where I could get them excited about me publishing something finally. Especially since I will probably write about something they could not agree with – I don’t know, maybe they will surprise me. But I do get this feeling that so many people don’t know how long creating anything can take, how long it can take to improve enough at something for it to be good enough as a skill to create to good work, and so they give up on supporting people long before it is time for said good work. And I do feel people have given up on me publishing anything.For a while, new acquaintances get excited but after a point you can see their excitement fade. Their expectations have been dashed, you see.
Why worry about this? Well, I helped run a conference, I buy books, I write about books, I chat to authors, I interview them, I go to book launches and I go to union and society meetings and try to figure out how best to help them and occasionally I get so riled up at everyone else’s inefficiency that I get mad and go organise things and apart from a brief sojourn with the West Australian when I was paid for book reviews, I am not paid for any of it. It’s all done in my free time because I want to help and support authors.
That takes time away from time I have to work to earn money and time to write my own books. That’s a fact. It is a sacrifice I make which I hope does help others.
I worry that if I get to publish my book, I won’t see anything like that occurring for me – I cannot interview/review myself after all.
I am not the only one – there is a community of writers online supporting each other in these ways – I just worry (and they are nice people so it is very likely totally unfounded) that it won’t happen for me.
- I worry that non-POC readers will not understand why I am writing about certain things they may have already read elsewhere. I explained something about Sedition once to one non-POC person and they said to me “Isn’t it overdone that X happens to Y? Why do people like Y always have to end up like this? Why are you writing that?”
Here was my answer: “I’m writing that because I kind of want to say that while the Western world may have moved beyond it, guess what, these issues crop up elsewhere in the world still and we have to talk about how we are going to address them especially if we can’t do it in the same way the West has and so if I am going for realism here, realistically, this is a very common situation for people like Y to find themselves in IF they are not in the more liberal West. If I WAS setting in the Western world then sure you could tell me I was being cliche and you would be right to do so because the story would then be a very very different thing in its nature and I would have to respect it and write it differently – but it isn’t set in the West, it’s set in urban Sri Lanka.”
Or take Manic Pixie Dream Girls. I don’t want to put them into my work, definitely not. But apparently my main characters often seem to like viewing other people in flawed ways especially as Manic Pixie Dream Girls even when those people are clearly not such things. Always be suspicious of how my characters see things, ok? They are meant to be realistic and therefore flawed, fallible and human and sometimes very, very stupid.
- I worry that I am going to have to give publishers or people running grants or anyone else a lot of incentives to get my work published in the form of readymade audiences via social media, changing the nature of my work, whitewashing it, changing my name and so on. I worry that one lousy review along the lines of “it is surprising that this person has got this far when it is clear English isn’t her first language” (which was what was written on my Honours thesis when it was supposed to be marked without my name being on it), might mean that my publisher will think twice about publishing me.I think all these things and worry about them because I have seen instances of people who think like this already working in publishing and in reviewing and it does worry me greatly.
- I worry that with the latest round of funding cuts it will mean not just less money, space and support for writers but for POC/CALD/disabled/LBGTQIA writers especially. I worry that it will end up being those with privilege and the ability to support themselves by other means and still have time who will have the luxury to write – in other words those of a higher socioeconomic status or class only. It is already too much like that and we are already silencing all sorts of diverse and important voices and stories. I worry that it will give more people more of a reason to not publish diverse writers’ work because we won’t be, initially, bankable enough. It makes the money and the profit more important than the goal of diverse voices and work. It makes it impossible for some really great longstanding publications and organisations to stay afloat, forcing them to close doors.
- I worry that this idea of doing away with parallel importation laws is going to kill Australian literature all together. While we love foreign work from the UK and the US, they cannot tell our stories. Why would we help them unwittingly colonise our culture this way? Because that is what it is if we do away with the laws – we won’t have a way of saying this is who we are as a nation in literature, this is how we are changing and evolving. We won’t be able to hear ourselves.
But I think that’s enough worrying for now. But if you are a writer who worries too drop your worries in the comments. Let us all worry together.And any antidotes or support is greatly appreciated.