Monday, May 16, 2011

Defining Ourselves

Being a full time writer, plodding away in my office in Mahalapye, I have no colleagues unless you consider Sgt Catman and Senor Ramon, my two cats, as people; I don't, they do. So when I need a break and want a bit of conversation, I go to Facebook where most of my friends are fellow writers. The last few weeks I've been having various discussions about the definitions we have for ourselves. It's easy for agents and publishers if we writers come to them in tidy boxes labelled accordingly but unfortunately many of us don't want to be confined within those four walls.

One contentious issue is the box called "African Writer". Because it often comes with a lot of accompanying baggage that includes said writer being able to discuss and have solutions for the continent's ills, many African writers prefer to climb out of that box. It also comes with the nasty business of your books being thrown into that dreaded African section. The stories you're "allowed" to write are often prescribed, as well. It's not a nice box to be in so people sometimes tread carefully around it. I don't mind the "African Writer" box but that could be because I have the leisure of choosing it rather than it being imposed on me.

Other confining boxes are "romance writer" or "sci-fi writer". And perhaps the most difficult to dodge "woman writer".

The problem with boxes is that they reduce a three dimensional writer to a one sentence tag line. The tag line sets down the rules before you walk into the room. It can even operate without you in many case since the box is often pre-furnished, you just step in and play the role.

These boxes are what sometimes cause writers to write under pseudonyms. I was asked when I had my first romance novella published if I'd like to have a pseudonym since the publisher knew I wrote a lot of other things too. I said no. I've likely made decisions which if I had an agent I might have been advised not to do, but part of why I said no to the romance pseudonym was that I hate boxes, I always have.

Why must I be this OR that? Why can't I be both? Why can't I write literary short stories, romance novellas and funny kids books? Why once I have a published romance I can't be taken seriously as a literary writer? I even dodge the description "author" as I find it is decorated with thin pretentious fringes I don't want rubbing on me.

I stick to "writer". It is my description of me. If push comes to shove I might say "Motswana writer" because my passport proclaims that as a fact. But after that most boxes I try my best to walk past. I think we all should be given the liberty to define ourselves.


Sue Guiney said...

I so agree. i don't call myself poet or novelist or playwright, I call myself a writer. It makes for more complicated introductions, and I have found it makes me less interesting (read less easy) to agents. But I am what I am, as Popeye used to say.

OneStonedCrow said...

Interesting Post Laurie - I didn't realise that writers faced these kinds of issues - you're right, I'm also anti-box ...

... the way I relate to what you say is that I don't try to be a 'photographer' - I'm neither a technician nor an artist, all I do is capture images ... sometimes they're 'nice', most times they're rubbish ...

法律-筆記 said...

Your blog is great你的部落格真好!!
If you like, come back and visit mine:

Thank you!!Wang Han Pin(王翰彬)
From Taichung,Taiwan(台灣)

Anonymous said...

I certainly don't regard myself as a writer and these days I don't really refer to myself as anything. But you, you are a writer. Claim that appellation proudly and say it loudly whenever you can. You've earned it!!!

CA Heaven said...

Graham Greene faced the same problem, even though he was writing fantastic books, bot the thrillers and the other stuff >:)

Cold As Heaven

Myne said...

Interesting post, I agree that it is easier when you have the choice of which tags you want to be defined by.