Sometimes, I just can’t keep my mouth shut. Or my hands off the keyboard. Elitist Asshattery* is one of the things that do that to me.
So, you ask, what is Elitist Asshattery?
Well. You can find Elitist Asshats in most writers’ groups. They pretend to be normal people with a reasonable level of empathy and understanding for their fellow writer, but they aren’t. They’re douchebags with an unhealthy obsession with grammar, spelling, and punctuation. And they make no exception for people who haven’t had access to the same level of education as they have; nor for those who struggle with neurological challenges such as dyslexia.
Before you jump to conclusions about what I’m really saying, let’s be clear:
No, poorly edited books usually don’t sell very well. And yes, you want your finished product to be as perfect as can be.
The people I label Elitist Asshats don’t limit their criticism to the finished product. They attack writers who share their first, tentative efforts at a craft they’ve been told all their life they’ll never be good at. Elitist Asshats say – yes, I’ve recently come across people that actually do say this – that people with dyslexia have no business writing. They make comparisons to people with no legs running marathons. (Which, by the way, some people do.)
Elitist Asshats seem to look no further than to the surface – to what the writing looks like. If it’s riddled with spelling errors and missing punctuation, they theorise, the story must be awful.
But you know what?
There’s a difference between writing and storytelling. In my opinion, any fiction writer worth their salt should be aiming to be a storyteller first and foremost. And storytelling – though a craft that takes skill to do well – is not the same thing as putting letters on a page.
Storytellers have been around for ages. Storytellers gave us our folk tales. Storytellers built the foundations of most religions. You don’t have to read and write flawlessly to be able to tell a story.
Quite the contrary – through most of history, the knowledge of humankind has been preserved only in oral tradition. By storytellers, back when reading and writing were rare skills – sometimes even forbidden to the common people.
To think that people can’t tell good stories just because they lack the quality education the western world’s middle class take for granted, or because they have a brain that’s wired differently, is to ignore generations upon generations’ worth of folklore and tradition.
The brothers Grimm, for example, did in no way come up with the fairy tales we all grew up with. They merely recorded folk tales in their research about the German language. The Grimm brothers could read and write, but the people who told the tales they wrote down generally could not.
I’m in no way suggesting that people try to sell their books unedited, with all the typos still in there. But there are resources available to most writers that will even the playing field. Spell check software, beta readers, editors.
There is absolutely no valid reason a person with poor spelling skills cannot write books.
Besides, speaking as someone who’s always had an easy time learning theory, I find that sometimes I’m so stuck in my square, right angle thinking, I have a hard time coming up with anything new. I just regurgitate the same old tropes and settings I’ve been fed all my life.
I do believe there are those who get so caught up in how things ‘should be’ written, they forget how to write. So perhaps the people who have never done things quite like the teachers expected are the ones most capable of creating something truly unique?
But be that as it may – I will always stand up for those of my writer friends who write despite challenges such as dyslexia or a lack of education.
Elitist Asshats, on the other hand, I will never endorse. In my opinion, story will always go before grammar.
* I’m mixing English accents here, and I do apologise, but it’s for the effect. ‘Ass’ is a decidedly American word: the British equivalent is ‘arse’. But ‘asshat’ has a ring to it that ‘arsehat’ ultimately lacks. So in the case of the word ‘asshat’, I’m afraid ‘arse’ will have to give way to its American sibling.