Tom Mitchell and the no good, very bad, writers


I came across this article on Medium today, and I have to say I am having mixed feelings about it. [Note: link]

Yes, there are a lot, A LOT of people out there calling themselves writers, novelists and authors. And yes, if you check the #amwriting hashtag on twitter it can be overwhelming. I’ve used it myself, certainly. So yes, a lot of people calling themselves these things and it seems to really anger and annoy the author – sorry am I allowed to call him that? – of this piece, Tom Mitchell. (Apparently Mitchell also has issues with coffee shop writers. Go figure.)

There’s a weird tone to this piece. Like he’s going for tongue-in-cheek, semi-ironic in a self-aware hipster kind of way, but he doesn’t quite get there. He just seems jealous and bitter. His main problem seems to be Nanowrimo participants – how dare they exist, let alone write! It’s clearly all dreck that should immediately be destroyed come December. While I won’t disagree that a lot of self-published work is awful, my ultimate reaction to that is “So what?”

As long as you believe in your talent, regardless of evidence, the whole world will soon surely follow. And if they don’t, it doesn’t matter, because it’s YOUR opinion that’s cardinal. And your mother really did like that story about the dog that dreamt it was a cat, written back when you were in school and you MUST have improved since then.

This is the kind of statement you can find in Mitchell’s piece, and I just fail to understand what the big deal is. It’s like the anti-gay marriage arguments….Gays will ruin the sanctity of marriage!! Self-published people and Nanowrimo will ruin the publishing industry!

No, in fact, they won’t. While there may be a limited number of agents and publishers out there, they don’t tend to buy crap, and if you’re good you still stand the same chance of being published. Bad writers selling kindle books won’t stop that. There aren’t a limited amount of stories or words out there in existence. A nanowrimo participant using certain words and sentences doesn’t stop you from using them too. Oh, some self-published author already wrote your idea? So? Write it better.

My fantasy is to build a world in which fantasy doesn’t exist. You know the fat middle-aged men with extravagant facial hair and weird dice and cards with pictures of unicorns on them? That’s fantasy. That’s you.

Tom is admittedly unpublished and it’s not hard to see why. He certainly lacks creativity. I mean, he relied on the fat, D&D playing, middle aged man trope to define fans of fantasy. Way to be original there, Tom. This middle aged, female, non-gamer is hurt. Wounded even. Whatever will I do?

Don’t call yourself a novelist unless you’re paid to write novels.

To be honest, I personally don’t hear a lot of people calling themselves novelists. Most of the people I know in “the field” call themselves writers or authors, both which bypass Mitchell’s payment rule rather nicely. While I used to refuse to call myself a writer (I was a “person who writes”. There was a clear distinction there for me) a few years back I decided to embrace the label. Frankly, because it’s true. I don’t make a living at it, but I have gotten paid ($25!). I quiver in anticipation of gaining Mr. Mitchell’s approval.

In the end I do get some of Mitchell’s frustrations. There’s nothing that annoys me more, for example, than the idea that the more obscure something is the more artistic it must be (fuck you, James Joyce). I hate stuff like that with such a passion there doesn’t yet exist a word to describe how much. But here’s the kicker:

I don’t have to read it.
I don’t have to pay for it.
And it won’t impact my writing in any way.

But that’s enough of tom, I suspect he’s achieved his goal of causing a stir and gaining hits and viewers. Kudos to that, you online article writing person!

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