October 10, 2008

Writing Bullshit (A Rant From Four Hours Sleep)

While sitting through a peer edit session in a certain class this semester, I heard the following remark(s):

My stories just write themselves. I have to let them go where they want to go, live how they like.

Really? Not the first time I've heard people say this and the sentiment pisses me off. It reflects laziness on the part of the author, helplessness. I can't fix my story because it writes itself. I'm not to blame for the way it turned out, the plot mistakes, the flat characters. Bollocks. All you've done is grossly romanticize the effort required to write a good story. The writer is in control of everything. The story does not live on its own, does not get pulled out of ethereal realms. Ideas might, but not the story. This kind of flaky pith does nothing to further what we do.

We're already underdogs. Art in general is viewed as elitist and unnecessary in the every day, working-class world. Many don't consider it work at all. Nothing more than fancy. An instructor of mine once asked what it would mean for every artist on the face of the planet to stop working and all art, in every facet, to be removed from society. What would we be left with? Almost nothing, I think. Creative force is found in almost every aspect of our day-to-day lives. But it's not some extraneous entity. No, it is brought into fruition through the agony of the creator.

So when I sit in a classroom and hear someone spout lazy rhetoric about how their story sucks or when I read through a guild submission displaying a lack of effort or learning--the same mistakes repeated from previous submissions--I want to rifle a piece of chalk into the offender's ear. Why spend so much time and money if all you want is your friends to salivate and heap accolades on your shoulders? Why submit pieces for peer edits that are no different from the ones you submitted last year, or the year before. Why sit in a meeting and expect to be taken seriously when all you want is people to look at you?

Here's a secret: it's all your fault. Every last damn mistake. Your story doesn't have a mind of its own. The reason it sucks is because you suck. Your poems are crap because you think one-offing a first draft is all you need to do. You're lazy, disinterested. Waiting for a muse that never comes.
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harpoon said...

I could hug you. I hear stuff like this all the time, and I work on TV, writing that's basically geared for sponsors and advertisers.

I think I even used to say stupidity like this when I was younger, thankfully I'm older and wiser now. The shocking thing is when 40-somethings talk like this. It's mind-bogglingly stupid.

Harry Tournemille said...

Yessir. I'm sure I made similar comments myself. I think younger artists confuse flow with a particular piece "creating itself". You can get into a groove, and sure things can all of a sudden be moving smoother and better than before. But it's still you doing it.

Thanks for the affirmation. One less nut out there.

Sam said...

You have your moments, Harry, and this is one of them.

The touchy-feely stuff is fine in conjunction with hard work, but art is not something you can half-ass.

But then, 'being an artist' is now a lifestyle value for a certain type of person. That's why when you walk into Chapters 100% of the 'Reference' section writing books have titles like 'How to Write Novel in Thirty Days' or 'Writing Blockbuster Non-Fiction.'

The basic tenets of writing take about twenty minutes to learn, and the materials required are laughably cheap--you can even steal them. The rest is inspiration and hard work. Nobody needs Moleskine notebooks (although I admit I've bought a few before, and my share of quickie writing books--everyone wants that magic bullet).

Writing looks easy so everyone thinks they can do it. Imagine if people said 'Oh, I practice medicine in my spare time' or 'when I retire I'm going to become a doctor.'

And then YOU look like an asshole for bursting some kid's bubble.

Harry Tournemille said...

Exactly. It's as if some people only want to be able to walk around campus calling themselves a writer or poet. Shit, you can do that without taking any classes.

Sam said...

And you can do that without writing a word.