Some days ago some of you reprobates were bored. I’m sorry I haven’t been amusing you regularly (or more regularly) but this is the year I catch up on overdue books and finish stuff that’s been lying around sometimes more than half finished and sometimes for years. I need to do that to reestablish the habit of writing every day, ten hours a day. Not just because (duh) in the day of indie this type of discipline translates into money, and I’m about to have a house to pay off, but because when you write that much you improve.
Don’t argue with me. I was first told this by Kris Rusch and Dean Smith at their workshop, back when I was such a young writer [less than 35 in human years, too] that I’d only sold one short story and no one had paid me for it. I mean, they were supposed to, but they didn’t. They said that 90% of writing is practice and after you study and know what you’re aiming for, the best thing you can do to get there is write. Write faster than you thought possible. Write in a disciplined, regular fashion. You’ll improve more than you can imagine.
I’m a stubborn cuss and also, as those who read me might know, don’t really believe in miracles. This is how come my urban fantasy has ALMOST no magic. Okay, they change into animals, and now Tom can command people with his mind, and I’m still not sure what the pearl of heaven will turn out to be (I’m sure all will be revealed, but I don’t know yet) but there are no spells, no wishing, no magic.
I believe in hard work, but I LIKE working with my hands (it is a sign that the Author has a sense of humor that my job — maybe my calling — only involves manual work as far as I wiggle my fingers on the keyboard) and seeing what I’m doing.
This whole “just write a lot of words and they’ll automagically get better seems like a miracle. So “Trust the process” might as well go “hocus pocus” and I don’t buy it. I didn’t believe it, but for various reasons, mostly to keep the writers’ group, which was my claim to sanity and a social life, together, I ended up writing a short story a week, as well as a few chapters on current novel.
I didn’t believe it made any difference until I had occasion a couple of years ago to go and read my back log, and I realized the stories before that year were SORT of stories, and after that they were immeasurably better.
So, don’t argue with me on the effect of hard work. What you can argue with me on is: What does better mean? What do you mean by aim to get better?
This brings us back to the beginning. As I said, a lot of you got bored and took off on Twitter (really, it’s like a drug to you fractious types, isn’t it? Particularly a certain raccoon) after one of the Puppy Kicker brigade who was pronouncing (heaven help us) on how she was shocked Baen readers could stand to read about someone over fifty having sex. (This is rather puzzling as about half of us are over fifty and we have sex whenever we can. In fact, one thing I’d say for the Baen readership in general, having met ya’ll at cons, and dinners and stuff, is that we’re ah… not just sex-positive, but positively sex-enthusaiastic. Of course, we don’t often like it in books, because if you have sex in books you have all those paper cuts, and the pages get glued toget– er… I mean, because written sex is not the real thing, and we know the real thing.)
Anyway, the discussion — “discussion” — which involved a certain were racoon devolved as such things do, and became mostly an exchange of insults. (The Racoon wants me to point out that he didn’t start the insults!)
This would be vaguely amusing (look, I’m the mistress of huns, okay — not that type of mistress. ew. You guys are fine, but I’m monogamous — so insults and big spats obviously amuse me.)
Then the puppy kicker went and wrote a blog post about it, and something interesting emerged. She thought we were accusing them of PRETENDING to like what they like. Which is almost mind-bogglingly bizarre. Of course, they do the vice versa (we’re all about the vice!) and think we only like what we do because we’re “stupid”. We’re not. We’re in fact smart enough to know you like the crap you say you like, and why. And we don’t have to resort to “you’re stupid.” At least I don’t. In fact most of you are middling to high IQ. It takes a certain amount of brains to train a perverse taste. And no, golly, the “perverse” has nothing to do with sex, just with non-natural.
And now they’ll think “non natural” means I think they’re bad. (Will someone please find my eyes? They rolled off and onto the floor again.) Tons of things aren’t natural and are over all good, like, oh, wearing clothes, sleeping in beds and living past of the age of thirty. I’m a fan of those.
BUT training a non natural taste sort of requires us to examine it and see “is it a net positive?”
Look, in terms the left can understand, let’s say I’ve trained myself to like all highly processed foods (this is true to an extent. When stressed I like sweet and otherwise tasteless food, like marshmallows, creme brule, and, in a hurry, just milk. This is a recipe for diabetes.) that’s a taste. It’s even a highly sophisticated, very civilized taste, since in primitive societies you don’t get these “tastless lumps of sugar, yum” things, or at least not amid the peasantry. However any of my friends who saw me eating only that SHOULD intervene because such a diet is not a net positive and I’d end up with scurvy or something.
My first exposure to “people like different things” was over food and dad brought out that old chestnut “tastes can’t be disputed.” Which is of course nonsense because most of what we humans do is argue taste. Taste in the non-culinary sense, mostly.
And while arguing taste is an unproductive endeavor, I have studied literature as an endeavor (seven years. Good Lord, the stupid things we do when we’re young. OTOH it was the only way to also study languages. Portugal pairs the two.) and I can tell you that normally, in a healthy civilization, there is a “theory of what is good” that imposes itself and which usually agrees with the tenor of the civilization. This is why the middle ages is wall to wall Christianity even when the writer/artist lived a fairly pagan life. Because that was their theory of good. In the Renaissance it became “good stuff most closely apes Rome and Greece.”
And btw these “tastes” for this “type of high quality” aren’t natural. And some of it objectively from a ludic (referring to games and enjoyment of play, not lewd) perspective, a lot of the “good literature” of that period sucked. And in the long run tends not to be remembered. The “high Theater” of Shakespeare’s day was mannered in the French way, and to make sure refined tastes weren’t offended no deaths happened on stage, but were announced by messenger. After a battle, messengers would cross on stage… Anyway that theater was certainly enjoyed by the “high brow” or at least “virtue and status signaling” people of the day. For one because it marked them out as better and smarter than those apprentices and low brows who went to Shakespeare’s plays. But we don’t enjoy it now. We tend to prefer Shakespeare because we — at least those of us for whom archaic language isn’t a barrier — engage with it on the same universally-human, ludic fahsion the apprentices and whores engaged with it when first presented.
This is normal, btw. The “high brow” of every advanced civilization enjoy things that they’ve been trained to enjoy and that are so “mannered” they tend to not be accessible much less enjoyable to the general public. Which is, btw, as far as devotees are concerned, a feature, not a bug.
The problem is that our left is a-historical, so they don’t recognize this cycle, nor the fact that the people who come after and break those rules, engage with the public and make a big splash, the revolutionaries, like say the impressionists after the French academic style, are usually reviled by the establishment as low brow, but pervail nonetheless because they are engaging the public. And then, of course, eventually they too become “mannered” and are superseded.
Because the narrative of our day, as prevalent as Christianity in the middle ages is “Social critique” (a Marxist concept, for those — and apparently most on the other side — who do it/bought into it without knowing it. It’s part of the whole Hegelian dialectic thing) “to bring about change” and that has become encoded into show “x number of minorities and victims. Show oppression. Show flaws in OUR society. No, not those flaws, bu the ones the elite is obsessed with right now,” that’s what anyone who studied literature has learned to consider “good.” It distinguishes them from the hoi polloi and they enjoy THAT immensely. They enjoy tracking down all the markers that mean the literature has been done properly. And they call the rest of us who don’t look for those markers “stupid.” Because if we’d bothered to take a literature course and “really think” of things, we’d like what they like.
It never occurs to them that their “art” has become so mannered that it’s virtually indigestible to ANYONE not so concerned with status, or not so pliable as to have swallowed our post grad classes whole (not even with enough garlic.).
Look a refined taste is all very fine. Oh, heck, “Social critique” is even fine, particularly if you’re writing one of those “slice of life” things. But most people when they reach for a book (or movie, or art, or music or computer game) aren’t looking for social critique. It’s not all about consciousness raising. Anyone with half a brain knows the world isn’t perfect and what the flaws in society are. And anyone with a full brain knows your proposed top-down solution is caca, and just whining about inequality, oppression and victims without a solution is EVEN MORE caca. Enough to fill the Augean stables, in fact. Which is sort of what you’re doing.
Your “social critique” aesthetics are old enough most of us had them force fed in school. This is why you guys are now trying to be more extreme (post binary, yeah) to distinguish yourselves from all the crap you learned in high school. But the distinction is ever more extreme and towards “Sophisticated palate.” Which I always thought was a way to eat shit and like it. But oh, okay, we’ll go Roman. You guys are so into the stuffed humming birds in bear-spit marinade that you’ve forgotten objectively, common human taste, tends more to a decent sandwich, well made. And that someone non-initiated will think bear spit is gross.
Or if you — by which I mean the “progressive” left — notice this, you just view it as “our taste is more sophisticated and those other people are stupid.”
I invite you to consider you’re the French court with the six feet high hair dos covered in lice. I invite you to consider you’re the French academes drawing the same statues… with great sophistication. I invite you to consider you’re pious middle ages intellectuals tearing up at the 100th description of the passion of the Christ… properly done and in an elevated way.
When art loses its way to that point, a challenge emerges, and it’s almost always vibrant and immediate enough to appeal to the popular taste, until it loses it way. Each reset always goes back “but what do I ENJOY” or in art terms “does it look good on the wall.”
And that’s what the Sad Puppies movement is. The funny part here is that a self-styled “progressive” movement fails to realize they’ve grown stuffy, stale, and that no matter how many victim classes they add and how much their trained palate enjoys it, normal human beings read it and go “it’s bear spit, and I say to hell with it.”
Their image of themselves as revolutionaries is so ingrained that they don’t realize they’ve become the aristos, in their walled palaces, with their jaded, over-educated palates, calling anyone who doesn’t like what they like stupid and uneducated.
They have lost sigh of the fact their aesthetic rules are not only arbitrary but totally unrealistic. And that we’re the mob at the gates, the ones with fresh tastes, challenging ideas and the appeal to the basic human, ludic taste in entertainment. Oh, yeah, they forgot literature (and particularly genre literature) is SUPPOSED to be entertaining too.
So… hey, huns, grab a pitchfork, read a novel. Laugh in the face of their irrelevant over sophistication. Work on being more accessible and allowing people to get into your work more easily and enjoy it more. Your message (if any. And most of us have messages, even if it’s just “don’t be an idiot” because it’s part of who we are, an integrated part of our character and our art) will come through more effectively wrapped in “fun” and without counting “by the numbers” victims.
Write well, read well, enjoy it. And laugh at the idiots who still think “good” is what their professors told them to enjoy.