Tag Archives: Writers Resources

Why @ChuckWendig is wrong.

Chuck Wendig’s notoriety extends it’s reach through the viral network of the interwebs with this little post about Turning Writers Into Motherfucking Rockstars. Apparently this would make writers better respected, or at the very least, better paid. I disagree. Vehemently. To show you why, let’s examine some of the unexamined assumptions Wendig builds his case on.

Mommy's boy

Hemmingway? Wilde? Rockstars?!
You see that picture of Hemmingway holding a shotgun? Take away the shotgun, what have you got? A flabby old guy working hard to suck his gut in. Hemmingway was a mommy’s boy who felt the need to act macho and write macho because there wasn’t much else going on behind those clipped sentences. Wilde was gay and liked tea. That describes many British writers of literary fiction and much as I love them they are about as Rock’n’Roll as that sounds. I’ll give you Hunter S. Thompson as a rockstar…but as a writer? While he literally committed the act of writing I thought mostly his readers just looked at the pictures?

Rock’n’Roll = Fame’n’Fortune
Most of the rock’n’roll people I know work as day labourers or, on a good day, call centre assisstants. No disrespect to those noble trades, but they rarely lead to ownership of an MTV crib. The problem with wasted youth is that once you run out of it you still have decades of minimum wage employment ahead of you. Rock stars in mansions? That’s just the star prize the capitalist system offers to one in a million so all the others will persist in the self-destructive behaviour that leaves you unempowered and disenfranchised…IE a perfect member of consumer society.

What are you rebelling against? My own future as an empowered individual.
Why is it that teenage rebels all dress the same? It shouldn’t take more than one rock festival and the sight of fifty thousand identically garbed rebels to make an intelligent person question what’s really going on here. Rock’n’Roll is about as rebelious as slapping a collar and chain around your neck, giving one end to The Man and begging him to make you dance like a puppet on a string. If you want to engage in some real rebellion, try reading a book. But aren’t books for speccy four eyed geeks and old maid spinster crazy cat women? THAT IS WHAT THE MAN WANTS YOU TO THINK. If you were an evil capitalist conspiracy bent on keeping your fellow man as a servile, submissive work force, which would you encourage? Books or Rock’n’Roll? I rest my case.

All the hot chicks are rock chicks.

Rock Chick
Book Geek

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I rest my case. Again.

Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll give you something to write about
The case for the defence ask you to look at exhibit A, an interview with rock god Slash of Guns’n’Roses. We particularly like very time he answers a question with a monosylable. If this man ever publishes a book I hope the ghostwriter is good. Very good. I rest my case. For the last time. Except.

Neil Gaiman is a nice person
Not when you’re alone in a room with him and he’s telling you exactly what he thinks of your writing he ain’t.

So as we can see, Wendig’s logic is built on the shabbiest and most crumbly possible foundations. Why would we want writers to be more like rockstars, when rockstars are such uncool minions of The Man? No, what we need to do isn’t crush writers down in to the degraded mold of mass media rockstardom. Instead, we have to raise the masses up until they realise that if you really want the freedom the Rock’n’Roll dream is built on, it’s to be found in the books they are burning, not the CDs they are selling.

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Oh please GOD no STOP writing! (so much)

There’s a terrible meme emerging from the internet writing community. It arises from good intentions and common sense, and like most examples of common sense applied to complex situations it is utterly, utterly wrong.

You can see this meme at work in the debate around publishing a book a year following Steph Swainston‘s retirement from fiction. You can see it Chuck Wendig’s (who I agree with more often than not) recent musings Write More, Word Slave. You can see it in the 50,000 word a month culture of NaNoWriMo. And you can see it in the commonly held wisdom that if, as a writer, you can just get your name out there in front of readers enough, you will eventually achieve fame and fortune.

You won’t. Well, you might. But it won’t be because readers have seen your name so often that they just give up and declare you a genius. It will be because somewhere in that torrent of words you’ve poured out in to the world, some of them were good enough to really stand out.

If you had only put those words in to the world, you would have done even better. Many writers seem determined to become their own worst source of signal interference on the channel between their work and those people who might be interested in their work.

The Entertainment Machine

Part of the problem here seems to be the belief that writers are part of the entertainment industry. That a writers product should be as uniform and regular as eight seasons of Star Trek : the Next Generation. I have a soft spot in my heart for Star Trek, I do. But if I want easily digested mind fodder then the TV is right there to give it to me. From books and the writers who write them I want insight…into life, society, the world, the universe. Writers are as much part of entertainment industry as doctors are part of the pharmaceutical industry. The latter’s job is to make product from which they make money. The former’s job is to heal people.

Protestant Work Ethic

Many of us work in places where the prevailing belief is that if you turn up from 9 to 5, do all the things you are told to do and do them well, you will prosper and may eventually get a promotion. These places are called factories, whether they are producing car parts or processing data of one kind or another, many work places are still factories. But writers are not factory workers. The rules of the protestant work ethic don’t apply to writing. You don’t get rewarded for producing x number of words, or x number of novels. Your job is to make things that are unique, wise, truthful and inspiring. That’s why you’re an artist, not a labourer.

Update Your Marketing Savvy

We’ve all grown up in a world where marketing was a thing done to the masses. You turned on your favourite TV programme and it was interrupted every 10 minutes by a mega corporation with a message designed to make you feel insufficient so you would buy their product. With enough people watching, and enough money spent buying ad space, the products sold. This approach has never worked for writers. It doesn’t work so well for Mars and Coca-Cola any more. Writers who try and flood the market with a book a year, or four books a year, or a short story a month, or a short story a day, or eight short stories a minute, or whatever, are attempting to apply the dynamics of mass marketing to a niche audience. It’s absurd and counter productive.

The Need to Make a Living

Stop trying to make a living from writing. You may as well try to make a living as spiritual leader or political revolutionary. People do make a living at these things, but it’s rarely their first priority. They’re trying to change the world, hopefully, for the better. It isn’t every writers job to change the world, but you should be trying to effect the people you are writing for. I don’t read Haruki Murakami, or Neil Gaiman, or Ursula Le Guin, or Stephen King, or M John Harrison, or Mary Renault, or Kelly Link, or any of the writers I love, because I feel the need to contribute to their bank balance. I read them because they show me the world in new and wiser ways. I’m sure you read your most loved authors for the same reason. Write something true and wise and brilliant. Making a living will look after itself.

Tell don’t show

I want you to tell me a story. I want to hear your voice like a whisper coming up from the page even though you are thousand miles or a hundred years away. I want you to command my attention like a master storyteller bringing a hall full of rowdy warriors to silence with a tale of the weird and fantastic. I want every word you use to count, because if you wouldn’t stand and say them to an audience, why print them on the page?

Please don’t show me a story. Please don’t waste tens of thousands of words describing the technicolor movie spooling in your head because I’m not going to waste my time reading them. Please don’t open your novel with pages and pages of words describing the setting and the characters in endless, pointless detail because if you can’t create the image in a sentence a paragraph won’t do it any better. Please don’t treat your novel like a screenplay, or a stageplay, or a poem, or a comic script, or a feature article, or a blog post, or a text message, or like a fucking twitter update. Because it’s a novel, and it isn’t any of these things any more than a car is a plane or a boat or a hover craft, and trying to drive it like one is going to lead to disaster.

If you don’t tell me the story first it doesn’t matter how hard your try and show it to me later, because you have already lost my attention. Which is why I’m writing this post, because I’m looking at a pile of new novels for review, and too many of them want to show me spectacular images but have completely forgotten to tell me the story first. So please, for the sake of my meagre reading time, tell don’t show.