There are two types of people in the world. Those who want to tell everyone what to do and how to do it, and those who have fond fantasies of holding them under water until bubbles stop coming up.
Okay, I’m probably wrong on this. That last is just me. In my camp I count people like Charlie Martin who, despite not being a Christian, has a bit St. Francis serenity to him. They just want to be left alone, and they will evade anyone trying to force them to do things and do them exactly THEIR way.
The types who want to tell people exactly what to do and how to do it are everywhere. I grew up in a culture where total strangers would approach you in public, on the street, to tell you that you were wearing your shirt wrong – because it was not the way everyone else would do it.
Being me, I rebelled against everything that people told me I should do, including basic manners which was stupid, because basic manners are simply the way we avoid making everyday situations into horrible confrontation. Manners are how we avoid beating each other over the last roll at dinner and running into the door all in a bunch and getting all stuck.
Manners unfortunately also stop me waving the middle finger of doom at most idiot pontificators telling you “This is exactly what you should do and how you should do it.” However the issue needs to be addressed, because if we don’t then these kind of idiots end up getting political power and making it a law that you have to do things their way.
There are things of course that you can only do one way. Say you suffer from craneo-rectal inversion and want to see the world. The only way to do it is to pull your head out of its dark, smelly place.
There are other things like that too. I mean you shouldn’t eat sand or metal. And at a formal dinner, you shouldn’t eat with your hands. In general it’s more efficient to eat with your fingers than with your toes. Though I’ll point out our class president wrote with his toes, because he was a Thalidomide baby. So even in these basics, there are no hard and fast “How to do it.”
However for most basics, and lacking other impairments, the “how to do it” is agreed on at least by the time you leave high school.
For everything else, can we have people leave us alone already. Note that the first lady has now found it necessary to tell us to drink more water. This is relatively innocuous, until some idiot decides to make it into a law, but still – drink more water, really? You need to put this message out there? Listen, lady, most of us figured out that drinking gasoline killed you by the time we were two, or at least we took it on faith, plus the smell nauseated us. As for “but… water… drink more.” Yeah. Well, most of us have been hearing that since we were out of knee breeches. And since I never wore knee breeches and I’m almost the First Nagger’s age, that’s a veeeeeeery long time.
Does she think because it’s her wagging her finger we’ll pay more attention? Listen, Lady, I’m more likely to listen to my doctor, and I still don’t. Why not? Because I hate drinking plain water. I do it only if I’m really thirsty and there’s nothing else. (I will drink carbonated water above that, but above those I will drink tea or coffee. And no, those aren’t the opposite of hydrating. That’s been disposed of.) In fact, I only stopped being severely dehydrated when I gave in and started guzzling iced tea. And yes I knew that I should drink mo’ water, but I couldn’t force myself to. Because I don’t care who tells me, my back brain doesn’t like it. (And btw, through most of humans’ history – not pre-history because I can’t be sure – people didn’t drink water, they drank beer or other alcoholic beverages.)
But nowhere is this more annoying than in the arts. No, seriously.
I’m sick and tired of being told there is only one way to write. This is only because I’m not a painter or a musician anyway, but yes, I’m tired of it.
You’re going to quote the tribal lays thing, and of course, there’s many ways to construct them, but truly, this doesn’t seem to percolate to people’s heads.
It’s fine by me if you say “Hey, Sarah, you teach writing. So, clearly you think there is a way.”
I think there is a way to make a story more attractive and popular, yes, and that’s what I teach, though those who’ve taken workshops with me know that I “beg” a lot. I’ll say things like “don’t start with your character crying, unless you can make it fly.” Etc. Because though there are certain guidelines to make your way easy everyone can quote three or four major instances of rule breaking that went big.
That one is already bad enough when people come in all big and bad and say “you can’t have first person narration that doesn’t sound amateurish,” which causes me to clear my throat and go “ahem, Heinlein, and smile when you say that.”
But what really gets my goat, gores it and then barbecues it over a pit with hot sauce is the people who tell you HOW to write. And by that I mean the process of writing. No, really “You must write on paper, or you’re writing trash” or “you must type everything on an old Remington Selectric” or and this will make some of you grimace “you must revise everything five times – preferably to the tastes of the editor who is the voice from on high and who is NOT paying you until/unless you hit his/her hot spot, before your story is “good”.”
This gets on my nerves for various reasons. The first is that the little clueless writer I used to be took all this to be gospel truth. This included using 30 to end my short stories for years because some book told me to. It included writing short stories, in the first place, because three or four books assured me this is how you broke in. It included sending to pays in copies first, because I heard you needed those in your resume before the bigs looked at you (not true, and if you had too many of them, no bigger mag would trust you.)
It included my trying to follow all the “rules” of writing, including “don’t use the verb to be” which for a while made my writing very stilted and odd. Also, I bought all the “you must revise five, seven, ten times” for each story. What happens when I do that – I once took a year to write a SHORT story – is that my stories become absolutely blah.
Until I went to Oregon and people took a look at my unedited stories and didn’t run screaming, I thought I needed this.
Now, am I going to tell you no one needs this? No, I’m not. I have friends who revise and polish multiple times and you don’t want to see their first drafts.
Is my process better than theirs? Oh, hell no. It’s faster. That’s a good thing in the current model. But what it REALLY means is that I’m a LOUSY reviser. I either hit it off the bat, or not. But it also means I need to improve by what I call “months of silence” where I study and experiment on pieces no one will ever see, before I am able to start a story “hot” and carry it through to the end readable, without having to revise.
However, for me the “one true way of writing” was a sand trap, which cost me years of livelihood, and years of work.
In the same way everyone saying that to be “really” published you must go through a traditional publisher is going to cost writers years of life, and is also implicitly endorsing a system that had become so dysfunctional it was selecting for “tone” and look of the writer, rather than any quality of the writing.
I love my traditional publisher, but truth be told, they’re not very traditional, and in fact all the other houses rage against how they do business and whom they buy. And yet, they’re the ones with the most fans on the ground.
I’ve been known to get a discount at my local Home Despot, in CO, because I wrote for Baen, and everyone in the store READ Baen. This doesn’t happen with any other brand. But if you hear the other editors, Baen is doing it ALL wrong, because they’re doing it differently.
And ultimately, that’s what matters – nothing succeeds like success.
Should you rewrite multiple times or publish your first drafts? I don’t know. I’m not you. Chances are your head doesn’t work like mine. I can tell you how I do it, but not how you need to do it.
Should you go indie or try traditional? You do it how it works for you, and if it doesn’t work you try another one.
But most importantly, you stop trying to impress the newbs with your wisdom and power. No one gave you the right to tell people how they should do their thing. If they fail, they’ll soon figure out the other methods. You can tell them “this is how I do it” because guidance is helpful.
But you don’t get to tell them how to do things and what things they should do, because you don’t know how other people’s mind works, you don’t know your taste is universal, and besides, you’re not the boss of anyone.
You didn’t just come down from the mountain, and I don’t see no stone tablets in your hands.
Let people find their own path. Advise them if they ask. Tell them “to publish here and there, I’ve found you have to do this” but stop already with “the only true way.”
Because this is my middle finger.
Oh, yeah, and drink more vodka!