On the Shoulders of Giants: Privilege and My Writing Process

Image description: A drawing on old, browned paper of a small person sitting on the shoulder of a person several times larger than them; there are illuminated letters in Latin in the background.

Image description: A drawing on old, browned paper of a small person sitting on the shoulder of a person several times larger than them; there are illuminated letters in Latin in the background.

As I have discussed already on Twitter, I am way ahead of schedule on my edits for The Imaginary Corpse. Barring a cataclysmic event, I’ll be able to turn my edits in ahead of schedule. In an industry where barely scraping by on deadlines is a trope unto itself, that makes me feel pretty good, and also pretty lucky. Which is what brings me here today.

On the one hand, I’m proud of myself for keeping on top of my responsibilities on this, my first published novel. I’m glad to see the practice I’ve been trying to engage in for years is working, and I’m having success balancing a pays-the-bills editing job with my beloved writing. For someone whose self-esteem has been fragile for most of his life, I’m grateful for the self-awareness and reflection to see that when it comes to writing, I am kind of a machine. But for all I’m a machine, I have to acknowledge that I’m a machine powered by a lot of privilege.

In fairness and kindness to myself: I really am skilled at writing as a craft and as a business. I’m capable of getting a lot done in reasonable timeframes and at a pretty consistent, rapid pace. A lot of that is because I have worked very hard to build a writing practice into my daily life, to learn techniques that minimize how often I get stuck or blocked (including trying several that didn’t work for me), and to find methods of outlining and revising that make the process feel rewarding and surmountable. t’s something to admire about myself and to allow to feed into building a healthy ration of ego and self-confidence that I so often lack about other things.

But also — privilege.

I have a full-time job that pays the bills, and whose hours allow me to have a regular writing schedule, with minimal disruptions from overtime. It’s not a job that exhausts me mentally or physically, or that requires me to use the parts of my brain I need to employ for my writing. I always know where my next meal is coming from and that it will be at least fairly healthy, and I consistently know month to month that I will have electricity, Internet, and a home. Our employer-provided healthcare not only exists, it is high-quality.

None of my physical health issues negatively affect my ability to write. My immune system functions normally, so I don’t have many illnesses that drain my batteries. My RSIs are managed well with physical therapy and over-the-counter painkillers. I did have a hard time when I didn’t have my diabetes managed, but I have gotten that under control.

On the mental health side, I do have anxiety, but even when my anxiety wasn’t well-controlled, it didn’t prevent me from getting writing done. I have psychiatric medication regimens that vastly improve my writing, rather than hampering me — even when we were adjusting the dosages, I never went through a period of blockage while trying out medication regimens*, and I actually write better now that my anxiety is well-managed. I also don’t have any exacerbation of physical health issues from my meds.

I have no after-work activities or responsibilities that I cannot balance writing around.

I have a partner who is supportive of me having a regular writing practice, and who is willing to adjust chores and plans around deadlines.

We currently have no children. Even when we had an elderly cat with special needs, those needs were not such that I could not find time to write.

My friends are supportive of me pursuing a writing career, and understanding when I have to reschedule or cancel plans in order to meet deadlines. I even have friends willing to help me market myself, which is jaw-dropping.

I have a huge support network of writers who are willing to be beta-readers, critique partners, mental health support systems, and even sometimes financial support systems for each other. We help each other with our brainweasels and fan-flail at each other when we’re in the doldrums.

And while I have not had the fortune of being able to attend a writing workshop, or even get a creative writing degree (ask me about UC Santa Cruz if you ever want A Story), I have consistently, throughout my life, had family and family friends who helped me access books on the art of writing, and kept me steeping in fiction, and supported me getting the Literature degree that led to me maybe not reading the stuff I wanted to read but to being more widely read than I might have been had I gone into something more directly marketable (lolsob).

I’m sure there’s more I haven’t thought of — as I was editing this post I thought of my typing speed — but, bottom line, why am I saying all this?

Well, first of all, because a lot of writers from my background (read: cis white men from middle- or upper-class families) will not admit to the privileges they are afforded, and if I can do one thing on this planet now that I’m getting a novel published, it’s trying to get everyone to acknowledge their privilege (or lack thereof).

Second of all, because I want to make sure it’s clear that this whole “succeeding at writing” thing is a mix of skill, hard work, and luck, and privilege is part of that “luck".”

Third of all, because there are a lot of people doing a lot of labor and support work behind the scenes of my writing career, and while I want to give myself a lot of credit, I don’t want to ever pretend I pulled myself up by my bootstraps. I’ll get as many of them into as many Acknowledgments as I can, but it is impossible to thank them enough.

I can’t promise you I’ll be able to give you every privilege I have — though everyone who isn’t a jerk deserves it! But I can hope that you are able to find the support you need, and the comfort you deserve, for you to make your skills shine through, and that people give you the love your hard work deserves.

*I am on the record as hating the trope of “psychiatric medication that kills your genius,” but I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that for some people and some conditions, proper medication means being unable to concentrate, or having trouble thinking, or straight up not consistently staying conscious.