In November, Lithub republished a list of ten rules for novelists by Jonathan Franzen that had originally appeared in the Guardian in 2010. It apparently raised a stink on the Internet. Reading the list now, I see why it was divisive. Some of his rules are obvious. Some are preposterous or pretentious. Overall, it’s just not a helpful list.
All of this is in my humble opinion, of course (this is my blog after all). Franzen has accomplished far more in his writing career than I probably ever will, but I see reflections of some broader issues in the literary community here that I feel the need to comment on.
To be clear, this isn’t really about Franzen’s list. This is about the impetus of some of his ideas. And admittedly, it probably reveals more about my own philosophies than Franzen’s, so take it for what it’s worth
Last week, a young writer asked if I had any insecurities about my writing. My initial response was, yes, of course I have insecurities. I wouldn’t be a writer if I wasn’t on some level insecure about my writing (and in general about everything for always and forever).
However, after some retrospection, I realized I’m in a much better place than I was when I started.
Nick Mamatas went on a Tweet storm yesterday about creative writing teachers barring students from writing genre fiction. It sparked conversation in the various Internets where writers dwell. I had thoughts.
I think Nick took it too far. Were we close, I’d ask him who hurt him, but alas, we’re not. I do think Nick was onto something, though.
(I should preface the rest of this with the disclaimer that I am not a fiction teacher, nor have I ever had the opportunity of teaching fiction writing, and nor is this a criticism of any creative writing teacher in particular. It’s a hard and thankless job, and it takes a special person to legitimately be excited to help others grow and succeed.)
If you had someone encourage you to write when you were young, he or she may have said, “paint me a picture.” As it turns out, this would be the worst advice anyone would ever give you. Even more dire is it may be the foundation of what many people believe to be good writing, and it’s evident as one of the most pervasive problems I see in the work of new writers.
Sometimes I think, maybe one day, I’ll get to teach a creative writing class. I think I would really enjoy it, and I think I could be reasonably good at it. In these times of grand fantasy, I consider the lessons I might bestow upon the next generation of writers.
Chief among them would be, as the writer, you’re not the painter. You’re the person at the paint store. Your readers aren’t using your imagination. Your readers are using their imaginations.
Today, I recalled that I survived an author’s worst nightmare. I gave it some consideration, smiled off a painful memory that became bittersweet in context, and moved on with my thoughts before yanking myself back to ponder it some more. I thought maybe the experience could be useful for another writer. Therefore, here we are.
In college, I was on the selection committee for a student-run literary mag run. I also submitted a poem for consideration. You may already see where this is going.
Setting aside the amazing ethical conflict of being allowed to sit on a submissions committee and submit, there’s a much more practical reason this shouldn’t ever be allowed. Continue reading
It’s been a while (ten months, in fact) since I wrote about writing. I never intended for the topic to be a regular feature, but that is too long, especially since this second tip is the integral other half of a sentence. Good thing you’re not paying for this.
Verbs are the key to powerful prose. My first tip is all about the subject of a sentence. That is, the thing that is performing an action. This tip is all about that action.
When I sold my first novel, I knew I would have to create a website. And when I started building that website, I knew a blog was going to be a part of it. It’s sort of obligatory these days. Most of my contemporaries have them, but one thing I decided I didn’t want to do was post writing advice.
I worried it would invite criticism. I worried that, once I started writing for writers instead of readers, my writing would enter a realm I just didn’t want it to be in.
But I’ve been writing and editing for a long time. It’s a big part of my life, and I feel like I should share it. I have this blog, so it makes sense to put it here.
So this is the first in a series of blog posts that will present a wide range of writing tips, from the practical to the theoretical, from the granular to the big picture. Continue reading