Tag Archives: luck

The Hidden Privilege of Published Writers

Those with privilege and luck don’t want the riffraff knowing the details. After all, if “those people” understood the differences in our lives, they might revolt. Or, God forbid, not see us as somehow more special, talented and/or deserving than them.

There’s a special version of this masquerade that we writers put on.

I’ve often struggled with being envious of others’ opportunities and privilege. It peaked (for me) in high school, when I spent my senior year feverishly applying for every scholarship, grant, and low-interest rate loan I could find. At the time, I still very much subscribed to the Just-World Fallacy and thought that of course I’d get scholarships–I’d worked hard in high school and got decent grades (I was ranked 12th in a class of 350, so definitely in the top 5% of the class), I’d participated in a ton of extra-curricular and volunteer opportunities all through high school, my parents made significantly less than most of the kids ranked higher than me at my school, and I literally applied for 30 scholarships. How could I not get at least one decent scholarship?

Come the night of the big scholarship awarding ceremony, I was so excited to see what I would get. As the evening wore on, however, my heart began to sink as my peers who had parents who were doctors, owned chains of restaurants, or were stock brokers graciously accepted all the big-dollar grants. When my name was finally called, it was for a $100 check from the local Elk’s Lodge.

I was crushed. I had spent hours researching and applying for scholarships, and my ROI was $100. It wouldn’t even pay for one class, or for the textbooks for one class. I could barely make it outside before I started sobbing and my mom hugged me tightly as we rushed to the parking lot so I wouldn’t completely embarrass myself in front of my classmates. It was a definite low point in my life, not because I thought the world owed me anything in particular, but because I certainly felt I deserved financial aid more than the people who had gotten it over me.

As terrible as that night was, from that point on, I learned not to expect anything in terms of opportunities or financial reward for hard work. I came to accept that some people come from families with money and are therefore better positioned to be successful in the world. Looking back, the kids of those parents had better grades than I did, they had been taking part in sports since elementary school and were star athletes, and their parents had a better idea of how to apply for college and be successful (I was the first person in my family to go to college full-time after high school). Economic privilege goes far beyond designer clothes and expensive cars–it reaches into the resources you have in terms of social connections, free time, and opportunities.

Resenting that fact doesn’t change anything; we just have to work harder to “make it.” We just do the best we can.

All of this to explain why I had very mixed feelings reading last week’s Salon piece, “Sponsored” by my husband: Why it’s a problem writers never talk about where their money comes from. Speaking as someone who has tried (and failed) numerous times to write a novel, I feel vindicated by the writer’s admission of economic privilege, but I also can’t help but feel that old sense of outrage in the pit of my stomach.

In my opinion, we do an enormous “let them eat cake” disservice to our community when we obfuscate the circumstances that help us write, publish and in some way succeed. […] I do have a huge advantage over the writer who is living paycheck to paycheck, or lonely and isolated, or dealing with a medical condition, or working a full-time job.

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