From Grub Street Daily:
Who gets to decide that you are a writer? Who gives you permission?
It used to be that writers would have to get through the gatekeepers in order to be considered legitimate writers. If they didn’t manage that, then the next best thing was a personal testimonial from a trusted source. Amanda talks about the wish to have an older established author call you the “real deal” at a cocktail party.
This struck a cord with me because as a young graduate of BU’s creative writing program, feeling very insecure about my own writing, I had the audacity to launch Grub Street by teaching classes out in the community. My credentials were thin: I had taught one creative writing course at BU and I had zero publications. I wasn’t even sure I was going to keep on writing but I knew I was a good teacher and I thought I could explore my writing with fellow fledgling writers.
. . . .
I still cringe when I think about a summer afternoon more than a decade ago, when I was walking around Coolidge Corner and I ran into an old childhood friend and her mother. When my friend mentioned Grub Street, her mother began to talk in detail about a writer friend of hers on the Cape who was teaching and who was really qualified and experienced. She started listing all of her publications. I felt so ashamed that I quickly excused myself and went to buy a packet of cigarettes even though I hadn’t smoked in years.
What right do you have to do what you are doing?
Another common reaction involved questioning the legitimacy of my students. What were they thinking? How could they be any good? They didn’t have to apply to get in? The subtext again: what right do they have to write?
. . . .
The growth of self-publishing has challenged this openness some. I sometimes sense that the community views an author backed by a New York publishing house as somehow more “legitimate” than an author who has chosen to self-publish. Last year, at the Muse, an author told me she was chatting happily with another author until that author learned that she was self-published whereupon she turned on her heels and walked away. The self-published author was left feeling rejected and shamed.
Self-published authors – like me over a decade ago – are subverting the proper power channels and giving themselves permission. This might be deeply threatening to many but it shouldn’t be to us. What we care about is the quality of the work, not who is packaging it.
What matters most is whether, to quote Amanda, your writing “can scratch an opening in the scarred up heart of a human being.”
Link to the rest at Grub Street Daily and thanks to Mira for the tip.