Many of the writers are the same writers that tell other writers, “Grow a thick skin,” but, instead, they take part in Rage du Jour, giving the very thing they hate time online.
There are political figures I cannot stomach that I would never give a moment of time online. (To do so gives toggle-minded individuals exactly what they want…as is the case, here.) I see many things that infuriate me online every week, but I do not give them time…because that is what they want.
Clickbait, and we bite! (Just imagine if the Huffington Post never mentioned Sarah Palin or the Kardashians again!)
In the case of this piece on The Stranger, I saw the article that enraged, largely, the genre community.
So…some thoughts on the piece…
I saw the piece on Twitter, before I saw it mentioned on the mighty Chuck Wendig’s Terribleminds blog…which I’ve been following for years. Read Chuck’s feelings about the piece and come back. Then…read Chuck’s writing.
Regarding the Stranger article, I may be the kind of snob this might have been written for…even though I still find Ryan Boudinot to be a festering boil in many ways. (Which is probably what he wants…)
But…that doesn’t mean he’s entirely wrong…
Let’s Address the Piece…
Writers are Born with Talent
I do believe writers are made. I believe someone without an interest in writing can be taught to write well — at least well enough, if so driven, to make more than I make as a technical writer at a company I love, working with people I look forward to seeing. However, writing talent should be addressed — even appreciated. (I’m glad Boudinot has the courage to talk about this, while so many others fart unicorns and rainbows, telling every writer that they can make it.)
Work ethic matters. Maybe more than anything. But…if you take two writers of equal work ethic, social prowess, and all that…we have to consider this: if one is good enough to maybe make it while the other is extremely talented, the talented writer usually has the advantage.
I’m not talking about a talented slacker — I’m taking about a talented writer who works just as hard as the writer who used to work in warehouses and pack trailers with boxes of marbles and other shit. At night. All night long. (As in, one of my many old jobs.)
Behind me on my bookcase are novels written by writers much more talented than I am. They worked just as hard, and they deserve every accolade they have received. At the risk of pissing off a lot of writer friends, they are better than the people writing straight-forward, fun stories. They are truly talented writers.
If You Weren’t Serious as a Teenager, You’re Not Going to Make It…
There’s definitely more than Haruki Murakami as an exception to this. (Murakami is Boudinot’s exception.) However, as one who’s been seriously writing for 25 years, when I’ve seen friends and other people just starting, they are making so many basic mistakes that those who have been writing for decades have moved beyond.
Maybe I’m a dick, but if writing is your passion, it’s not something you put off until a later date, after a career and kids and all that shit. You let that consume you young, and learn to fight for it while young. It’s not a necessity, then, but it doesn’t hurt. Sure, some discover it later in life and land that gig with a perfect 10 like Nadi Comăneci, but I’ve known people who have been talking about wanting to write the entire time I’ve written, and when they do attempt to write, it shows that — at best — they’ve dabbled.
In short, they have a loooooooooooooooooooooooooooong way to go. (And most will never really stick with it.)
You wanna write, you friggin’ write! You don’t put it off for decades.
You make time for writing, or…you just don’t write. Those who make it later in life are fewer than those who make it after a decade or two of hard work. That’s what I think Boudinot is saying, here…not that no older writers make it, because even he knows that’s not true.
I Do Not Have Time To Write
I agree with this part. Maybe it’s a shitty thing to say to students (“If you don’t have time, quit now!”), many of whom are pressed for time. More who are overwhelmed by life and, even if they have time, their perception is they don’t have time. And when you’re younger, that’s valid. (How many adults do I know who play Words with Friends and spend all their time on Facebook claim to have no time when they really do? I will cut 20-year-olds more slack than a 45-year-old complaining like they are still fresh on their own…)
But it comes down to this: If you really want to do something, you find the time! So you don’t go into your day job able to talk about Breaking Bad or House of Cards, but you can talk about something even better: your drive to be a good writer. (Or better yet, you just write and eventually drop that bomb on the world, surprising all those who know you.)
If you can’t, I won’t be as dicky as Boudinot and say you don’t deserve it, but if I hear you complain online about not having time, I might call you out for being a whiny puss-head. (Unless you truly don’t have time. I know a woman who works two jobs and gets one day off — in which she does laundry and triple-checks her daughter’s homework. If that’s not you, you probably do have some time. So shut up and write!)
Let’s go back to Haruki Murakami. Regarding time and the way he looks at writing, Murakami said he:
…placed the highest priority on the sort of life that lets me focus on writing.
You can call Boudinot a dick until the very end, but you don’t get an easy slide on Haruki Murakami saying that if you want to write, you live a life that allows you to write.
It might mean turning down parties, working through weekends, and things like that, but…you friggin’ write!
If You’re Not a Serious Reader, Don’t Expect People to Take Your Writing Seriously
Maybe I’m an elitist ass-monkey, but I see truth here. Not all reading must be highbrow and challenging, but…people should aspire to push themselves as readers now and then if they expect to push themselves as a writer.
There’s nothing wrong with crafting a basic, fun tale and repeating. Over and over, never challenging yourself. Hell, you’ll probably find a way to make money doing so. But…the writers I read, in all genres, who push themselves as writers — doing things they didn’t know they could do — usually push themselves as they read, too. And that pushes me as a writer.
If the most challenging thing you’ve ever read are the Harry Potter books…you’re probably never going to reach another level as a writer. And there’s nothing wrong with that — I wholeheartedly endorse those who just write cool stories. I liked most of the Harry Potter books, but you can never convince me they are anything more than just fun stories.
But…if you want to do something more, you need to read some challenging writers.
I’ve read shit I hated, but still…seen merit in reading stuff like Moby Dick and other cumbersome stories.
It may not make it into what I write, but challenging reading still matters.
No One Cares about Your Problems if You’re a Shitty Writer
This section of the piece ended with a line that sickened me, and made me lose all respect as a human for Boudinot:
Just because you were abused as a child does not make your inability to stick with the same verb tense for more than two sentences any more bearable. In fact, having to slog through 500 pages of your error-riddled student memoir makes me wish you had suffered more.
That’s a fucking terrible thing to say and almost deserves a crack in the teeth! Seriously, I wouldn’t wish ill on anyone, but if Boudinot were at a zoo and baboons butt-raped him, I’m not sure I’d feel so bad for the guy. And feeling that way makes me hate that part of him even more!
Still, the point he makes is valid: many writers see writing as therapy. I don’t get it, but power to ya if you do. Thing is, if you’re working out issues in your writing, you best be a damn good writer; otherwise, just have a whiny blog.
And the world is full of those!
You Don’t Need My Help to Get Published
One of the more current views in Boudinot’s piece. In a world where many scream, “Self publish!” like the long-forgotten comic book creators in the 90s, many shout that battle cry when it comes to e-books.
When many literati say, “Self publishing is terrible!” at least we have a writer who believes in doing it on your own. I’d think Boudinot would be praised for siding with the indie writer; not raked over the coals by the very people touting what he recommends even louder than him…
(Even though one can still make an argument for traditional publication or hybrid publication…)
It’s Not Important If People Think You’re Smart
I saw someone say Boudinot contradicted himself with this…that if you are well read, you will write smart, which isn’t always the case. I’m proof of this, in fact.
I can make people feel things in my writing, but I will never be mistaken for Michael Chabon of Dave Eggers. I’ve mentioned before, the first adult fiction I read was John Cheever’s short stories, followed by John Irving. I read stuff I wasn’t supposed to be reading at that age, and I damn well friggin’ benefited from it!
But you will not read my work and say, “Christopher is a smart mofo!” Your 12-year-old kid probably has a better vocabulary than my dyslexic ass, but…because I read and still read damn good books, there are times I rise up as a damn good writer.
If you read in the gutter, you will [probably] write in the gutter. Read well, and you might rise to something more. There’s merit in reading challenging books, challenging yourself as a writer, and seeing what you are really capable of doing. Even if what you write is pretty straight forward. Boudinot is right, though — even if you are well read, it’s not important to be perceived as smart.
It’s Important to Woodshed
Okay, maybe kick Boudinot in the nuts for wishing someone was abused more and turning a noun into a verb with this topic.
(But…should you think I’m against noun to verb, watch this…sums up my feelings very well. However, I’m not a fan of office monkeys and arrogant know-it-alls like Boudinot thinking they are hip by turning a noun into a verb.)
All that said…
I agree with him about being quiet as a writer.
Maybe not keeping it a total secret, but…not being so connected. Not rushing out and proclaiming online that, “I’m a writer!” and then clustering with others and complaining about how hard it is to be a writer, how you’re misunderstood…all that bullshit that isn’t true. (I’m not sure there’s a worse thing for writers than a supportive community that coddles those who claim it’s sooooooooo hard and encourages complaining over solid writing.)
You could be loading boxes of marbles into trailers on a loading dock — trust me from experience, that is worth complaining about, but you move on. Just like in writing. Acting like writing is this thing that tears at us all and blah blah blah…maybe I’m sounding like Boudinot, here, but have some friggin’ confidence and don’t write to seek validation. Write because you want to see what you can do.
If you feel a need to bitch, be quiet until you’re good enough to come out and say — with confidence — this is what I’m doing…and it’s pretty friggin’ good!
Your odds will be much better…
I’m Not Sure Boudinot’s Piece is Totally about Writing
Boudinot really isn’t totally writing about writing. At least I don’t think he is.
In many ways, sure…he is. But more than that, he seems to be writing about the Internet in general.
He’s writing about all the bullshit, feel-good articles that say, “You will make it, if only you try!” when, the odds are…you won’t. All the people who say if you only believe, it will happen…like something from The Secret.
I do believe that if you are talented (something that you can grow) and work hard, you may never be read by more than 10 people, but you will be a damn good writer — one better than you imagined you can be.
I think much of what Boudinot wrote in his piece is exactly about that.
This is just as much about backlash as it is about writing in general. People got worked up about Franzen talking about YA fiction. They get worked up about so much, all in an effort to make writing seem bigger than it is.
I love writing, and think it can change the world, but…I’m not so full of myself and what I do to think I will change the world. Maybe I’ll write something that touches someone, but with so many books published, I think the days of the book we all read — that changes us — is a thing of the past.
And I think that’s what Boudinot is talking about.
Be serious as a writer, but not so serious that you get caught up in the Rage du Jour.
I’ve seen many writers who say, “Be thick-skinned and grow a backbone,” coming unhinged and practically pissing themselves over Boudinot’s piece.
Boudinot said some crass shit in his piece, and it’s a shame because many who are quick to act hurt — many of whom make money writing about the antithesis of people like Boudinot, selling how-to-write e-books and blogs — don’t see the good in much of what he said.
If he got so deep into you that he is strolling around your subcutaneous layers, you might want to Check Your Head.
If you truly view him that way, and there’s plenty of reason to see him in that light, he’s really a whiny little fuckhead on the playground trying to stir up shit…and the best thing you can do is do your own thing and ignore that shit.
Otherwise, you just let him win…