Earlier today my friend Gina Penn tweeted a link to an article in the London Evening Standard about former Booker Prize winning author VS Naipaul’s comments that women writers are “unequal” to him due to their “sentimentality, the narrow view of the world”.
I was saddened to read Naipaul’s authorized biographer describe him as, among other things, a “woman-beating misogynist”. My heart goes out to anyone in Naipaul’s life he has physically abused. No one should have to suffer through that.
But beyond that, the article, and Naipaul’s comments, don’t really bother me. Because my self-worth as a writer isn’t dependent on VS Naipaul. It’s dependent on me.
Now, I will admit that, Booker Prize notwithstanding, I’d never heard of VS Naipaul before, and it’s not like he was trashing something I’d written specifically. So that is part of it. On the other hand, if Neil Gaiman told me that a story I’d written was utter crap, I’d be crushed — for a while. Then I’d dust myself off, think about everything he’d said, and try to write something that would blow his fucking mind.
Because that’s what you do when you’re a writer. You listen to the criticism, and you work to get better. Or you get out of the game.
If my years as a writer have taught me anything, if I’ve learned anything from the critiques and the rejection letters and the bad reviews, it’s that not everyone likes everything. All you can do is write the best story you can and hope that someone else enjoys it. Do right by the story, I always say, and that’ll be good enough for me.
Or, as Jesse Stuart said, “Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it.”
It’s possible that Naipaul simply doesn’t like the books he’s read that were written by women. Fair enough. As I said, not everyone likes everything. But I do feel a bit sorry for him if he’s rejecting out of hand everything written by women strictly because it was written by women. He’ll miss out on some great books.
But, that’s his choice, really, and his loss, not mine. Me, I’m going to keep reading all kinds of books, no matter who wrote them or what genre they’re in, because that’s how I discover new things to like. (For example, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, which I just finished and thoroughly enjoyed, and picked up on a whim at Borders.)
And I’m going to keep writing, and know that as long as I write the best stories I can, I’ll be fine. Because that’s what you do as a writer. You keep writing stories. And you keep trying to get better.
Or you get out of the game.