Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Writing Wednesday: Secrets & Lies, Damned Lies!

A couple of months ago this new butthead showed up on writers.net because I guess he got kicked out of other groups he had been a part of.  Right away he started rubbing everyone the wrong way by talking down to every single person as if they were a newbie who didn't know shit about writing--even me.  What makes him such an expert in his own mind is that he has a couple of books published with small publishers (one with Offutt's publisher, which made me snicker), he once paid for a critique, and he read some how-to book from 1965.  Look, bub, I've published with small publishers, I once paid for a critique, and I've read newer how-to books but I don't run around telling everyone they have to be like me.  In fact I take great pains not to indicate I have any kind of method for people to follow.  If you wanted me to write a how-to book it would say simply this:  Do whatever the fuck you want, but you should probably write it in passable English--or whatever your home country's language is.

I think it was ESPN's Tuesday Morning Quarterback that long ago suggested that the reason even otherwise intelligent people fall for Ponzi schemes and the like perpetrated by the Bernie Madoffs of the world is that people have this inherent need to believe there's a secret to success.  It's like in the 16th Century all those explorers knew there was a shortcut from England/Spain/Portugal to China/India.  Columbus tried Cuba and others South America or Virginia or Newfoundland or the St. Lawrence Seaway.  But no one ever found it because it doesn't fucking exist--or didn't until they dug the Panama Canal.  Or to put it another way, people like my dad will play their system for lottery numbers or other forms of gambling even when month after month, year after year, it never pays off.  Someday it could, right?

There are a lot of shady characters in the publishing world who will take advantage of authors like Butthead who think there's some secret code that can magically grant you success.  You have all the false agents and publishers who'll take your money and run.  You have all these literary journals that sustain themselves mostly because people are gullible enough to think if they read said journal they'll figure out how to write a story that will be published by said journal and then:  Profit.  Editing services, critique services, and of course how-to books and articles.  There's all manner of people out there willing to teach you their path to success.

You want to know my secret?  THERE IS NO FUCKING SECRET!!!  Take 10 different successful authors and you'll find 10 different ways to achieve success.  Not just by different genres they might write in but the paths they took.  Some people achieve success early on, some later.  Some get an MFA from a fancy school while others parlay an ordinary career into a writing career.  Some self-publish and then hit it big while others got in at Big Publishing right out of the gate.

What guys like Butthead try to sell you on is that there's a certain style to writing that will grant you success if only you can learn it.  It's like a secret handshake that'll let you into the writing fraternity.  But again you can pull 10 books by 10 different successful authors and they might have 10 different style to them.  I mean honestly, would you claim JK Rowling and Nicholas Sparks write the same?  Butthead would say, Well they each have characters and plots and blah blah blah a bunch of horseshit.  Every "rule" you can make, someone can find at least 1 if not 10 books that violated it and were still successful.

The problem for new authors is they'll buy into the bullshit the Buttheads spin because they don't know any better.  So they'll go try to master the secret handshake and guess what, it still won't do them any good.  Because if Butthead really knew what it took to be a successful author, wouldn't he be one?

Which last Friday he tried to call me out by saying, "I'd take your crap a lot more seriously if your writing was selling."  That was pretty funny because when I did a little digging, I found out his last 4 books have a combined 0 sales on Amazon.  The only book he had ranked better than 600,000 was the one he was giving away for free.  So it was like, um, yeah, who are you to throw stones?  And more to the point, who are you to tell people they should write the way you do?  Your method obviously isn't working out for you.

Last month I watched a M*A*S*H episode where Radar the company clerk spends $50 to enroll in the Las Vegas Writing School he saw advertised on the back of a Superman comic.  He starts following their how-to advice by using and misusing a lot of big words.  And then some words he just makes up like, "The corporal bragadeered the jeep."  In the end Colonel Potter gives him some decent advice:  Be yourself.  Don't take how-to books to heart to the point that you lose yourself.  You think Hemingway or Faulkner or Dickens followed some formula from a school advertised in a comic book?  Very unlikely.

But you should probably take what I say with a grain of salt because if I were a successful author wouldn't I have a blog that gets more than 30 hits a day?

2 comments:

  1. He reminds me of this one guy on Critique Circle that acted like he was an authority. He also used to edit books and he had some published books, but they weren't selling. His main thing was to direct people to reading books on writing, rather than take advice from a critique group. Not sure if he's there anymore. He went by the name of JayG and came across very arrogant for accomplishing nothing.

    But no, there isn't any magic formula, however, I do find that some authors are having more success just by writing in more popular genres. This is generally what publishers look for over writing ability, they just don't want to admit it.

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  2. Never trust an expert that doesn't live with success in his field. LOL

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