Stop Writing About Writers

An examination of why main characters should not be writers.

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While watching the BBC series I May Destroy You recently, and finding a lot that was fantastic about it, I felt myself yawn at the protagonist being a writer. A writer late with her deadlines, a writer trying to figure out the ending of her book, a writer with all the privileges that many local, grassroots writers would kill for – a publishing deal, an agent, a budget. It’s time we stopped writing about writers, it’s getting very tired.

Firstly, writing your novel or poem is the perfect opportunity to explore a different profession. A profession your readers could never experience or haven’t even heard of. Your writing is the doorway to new experiences and understandings, why waste this opportunity on writing about writing? Your job as a writer is to show people new worlds, so do this.

Writing about writing suggests a lack of imagination. Oh look, what an extraordinary coincidence that your main character is a struggling writer, like you! If I read a book where I think the writer hasn’t tried very hard, I wonder why I should try to pursue it. Other careers to avoid are rockstar that is just about to make it big, spunky supermodel, depressed actress that has it all, detective in the shadows that’s seen dark things and doesn’t play ‘by the book’.

Writing a writer is easy, lazy and pretentious. It’s far more worthwhile to dedicate your time to carving out nuance and shedding light on significant issues. This isn’t to make an issue of issues or to draw attention to them for the sake of it, but if you’re self-aware and interested in the world around you, through a process of natural osmosis current affairs will colour and add context to your work.

Consider that writing about writers is only interesting to writers. It is self-involved. The poet John McCullough wrote that no one would want to go to a party of just poets – even the wallpaper would want to leave.

Of course, as with all rules, if done well not writing about writers is a moot point, take The Bell Jar, The Plague or Possession, but unless you’re a world class writer, perhaps avoid doing so.

At best writing about writers could make an interesting post-modern, if mostly academic, exercise, and this aspect was in fact explored in I May Destroy You, but there’s only so many of these exercises one can do before we are exhausted.

We can’t all make it as writers, many people are cleaners, carers and binmen and they are just as interesting as anyone else and deserve to be represented on our pages just as much.

Setareh Ebrahimi performs regularly, and is a poet working in Faversham, Kent. She is the author of In My Arms from Bad Betty Press.

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