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Reality is Not Reality TV

Karin Kallmaker Craft of Writing, LIFE + STYLE, Readers and Libraries

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Sometimes unrelated events flow together and to me, suddenly, they don’t seem so unrelated. I have been planning some parts of this particular blog for some time, but didn’t feel I had my thoughts considered enough to share.

Then an elected official yelled at the Commander-in-Chief. A highly popular singer interrupted a performer’s acceptance speech to tell the audience someone else should have won. A world-ranked tennis player screamed threats at a judge. None of these events were private or off-the-record. They all took place in full view of the public eye.

Celebrity is not an inalienable human right. Celebrity, which each of these people sought out and nurtured, does not convey extra rights either. Celebrity is a privilege, yours to earn and yours to lose. So far, only the woman has really paid a price for her outburst – funny about that. I find it very interesting who feels they have a right to interrupt, shout over and name call and at whose expense, and who is held accountable and who isn’t. A subject for another day, perhaps.

Open Quote Mark featuring Starry NightEach of these people made the very same excuse for their incivility. Something like, “My feelings got the best of me.” Oh boo hoo, poor you.

I may not play a sport at the top of the game, or have a constituency of voters sending me to public office, but I have sat in awards ceremonies plenty of times, and I have never been tempted to, nor have I ever seen anyone take the microphone away from a winner and pronounce someone else more worthy. And I am proud of that fact and thank my many colleagues for not mistaking Reality for Reality TV.

Unfortunately, every day I see on television far too many people who believe that because they can talk they are entitled to a devoted audience. When they scream, they are entitled to do it in front of the world. When it sells advertising space, verbal diarrhea is lucrative, and truth is irrelevant to the revenue stream.

The reasons these events probably caught my attention — other than their being unavoidable in the 24/7 news cycle, is that I have been pondering questions from both published and aspiring writers on the general subject of sustaining success. I’ve shared my list of Do’s and Don’ts over the years. It used to be a long list, but reflecting perhaps my growing awareness that less is more, my tenets for maintaining success are down to three:

  • Writing is a calling, not a habit.
  • Readers are a loan, not a gift.
  • Professional publication is a privilege, not a right.

Put words on the page just because my hands are on the keyboard and presume it’s worth selling — nope. Expect every reader to love one book and therefore love them all — nope. Presume a publisher will take risks on my work regardless of my own investment and conduct — nope. The end result of my work — the story — starts with me. If I don’t care to do the best that I know I can, why should a typesetter worry if I meant to put a blank line there or not? Why would the publisher care if the cover is just a bit crooked? Why would a reader want to pay me (and the publisher, editor, typesetter, printer…)?

Open Quote Mark featuring Starry NightJust because I have the passionate commitment about writing to put a story on the page doesn’t mean I have a right to the passionate commitment of others, let alone their money and time. I have to earn it and work to keep it.

So, in my opinion, based on their actions, Kanye West, Serena Williams and Joe Wilson – and governors who shake their finger in the President’s face – have mistaken the privilege of celebrity for the right to behave badly. Their carefully worded apologies, which make no promise of not repeating their behavior, make it clear that they didn’t expect to be held accountable for it.

In my world, I don’t have handlers or bodyguards or gatekeepers, and I’m not on TV. I can’t pay a publicist to listen to my critics. All feedback comes right to me, unfiltered. I don’t get a paycheck just for showing up and how I play the game counts. All of that may be why I view things differently.

Copyrighted material.

Comments 3

  1. I think the “vanity” publishers have further instilled this illness. People who never would have had their stuff published can “submit” a manuscript and get it “published”. And it is that word “published” that makes them think they are gifted when in fact they are merely capable of typing.

    It is akin to a maintenance engineer and a rocket engineer. Yeah, both have that title engineer but that's where the similarities end.

  2. Paula, I truly believe that an attitude of “they’ll buy my grocery list if I put it up for sale” is deadly, even if folks weren’t watching their pennies so closely these days.

  3. Beautifully said. Really.

    * Writing is a calling, not a habit.
    * Readers are a loan, not a gift.
    * Professional publication is a privilege, not a right.

    Point 2 is, like, the best. They are on loan and writers can lose that at any point.

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