anghara (anghara) wrote,

Just sitting by the side of the road and offering directions...

Writing can be such an Alice-in-wonderland world - and I don't mean because writers are allowed to make things up as they go along, particularly in the genre which I have wound up writing in.

No, I mean the foothold it has in the workaday side of ALice's mirror, OUR world, the one that we live and work and love and squabble and grub around in every day of our lives. The same world where you would take it as read that you would go and ask advice from an expert if you wanted to build a house, fix a car or a leaky faucet, figure out whether you needed an undercoat to paint your bedroom or what kind of glue works best for the ceramic tiles you just bought for your bathroom, invest your money or figure out your taxes, or do any of a myriad of other things which some members of our species have made their own area of expertise.

It seems that since we can all talk - i.e. string words together in a semi-coherent sentence - and most of us are literate in the sense that we can make scratches on paper which mean something specific to us in terms of sounds, syllables, words etc - well - that apparently means that writing is pretty easy, that anybody can do it, and that anybody, then, is mandated the right to publish. I guess there are those who will go and ask for SOME advice from a professional in the field - an editor, an agent, or even, God forbid, a writer who has had something published already and has a little bit of insight into the process by virtue of that. If, in the context of (let's say) a Usenet newsgroup or even LJ I guess, an editor or an agent does offer a smidge of what we might call "unsolicited" advice of the kind that tells aspirant writers and neophyte writers (and there IS a difference there) something about what's what and how to go (or NOT to go) about doing things in a manner which might optimise their publication chances - well, that's even taken with a pinch of gratitude and such people even develop a fan following. Look at the journal of Miss Snark, for instance. Or alg. Or any number of others.

But all too often an author is going to pipe up with something, and in too many cases is taken to task as being arrogant or unwelcoming or trying hard to paint a really bad picture so as to "safeguard", in some esoteric manner, his or her own position on the ladder while shoving off those climbing up behind with both feet, violently.

The truth is, I have rarely met that kind of scribe. They are few and far between. The writers I know - and I've met quite a few - are by and large a very open crowd, giving with their time, more than willing to tell it like it is, and if we don't go so far as to offer up detailed and positive critiques on every manuscript offered up at cons, in email, in newsgroups or on a number of other occasions (including, once, in my case, at a signing in a bookshop - "here, sign my book... and would you read my MS and send it to your agent?") that doesn't mean we're evil horrible people. It merely means we've got our own ideas to stir fry, thank you, and there's always the chance that someone might witter "but that writer stole MY idea!" if your next book happens to bear a passing resemblance to something they've written and handed to you.

I was writing ever since i figured out what words were, but I was pointed in the direction of "I want to be a career writer" by an author who came visiting our school when I was fifteen (I believe I spoke of this elsewhere in this journal, before). The woman told us no lies and made bloody certain that we were all aware of *every* aspect of the writer's life that she felt able to convey to us. The euphoria, but the deadly periods of waiting waiting waiting or of piercing insecurity manifesting itself in those deadly little words "ALl I can write is absolute crap why would anyone want to publish/buy/read this stuff?". The satisfaction of a job well done, but the blood sweat and tears of getting to that point. The head-spinning excitement of holding your own book in your hand, and, like every pregnant woman everywhere when she's handed her baby for teh first time, forgetting entirely the screaming birthpangs that preceded the moment of glory.

I don't know, perhaps it's just me, but I lapped it up - that HONESTY, that sincerity, the sense I got that here was someone who loved what she did, who would not or perhaps could not do anything else, and who looked on her profession without the benefit of rose-coloured spectacles. I have tended to be pretty quiet and "I-am-not-really-here"-ish in the early years of my publishing career - but as the years piled on and so did a few more books I became more confident that I now know a few things that I myself would not not have known when I was starting out, and which would have been useful for me to know. In the name of saving someone like me some time or some heartache, I'll occasionally pipe up with writerly or publishing-industry information or advice.

If I say that publication is a privilege and not a right, which is something I am on record as having said several times, that doesn't mean I am being arrogant or isolationalist or exclusionary or any of that crap. I am merely saying that there is stuff that should be published, and there is stuff that should NOT. The fact that there appears to be a lot of the latter currently sitting in the bookstores doesn't negate the basic principle - there are readers and there are readers, after all, and apparently there are enough readers who don't want to stretch their minds or invest a great deal of time or effort into reading a good book to drive a certain level of publication of some really BAD (but money-spinning, nonetheless) books. The fact that somethign appalling GOT published doesn't give every writer of appalling stuff carte blanche to assume that they deserve publication too. And writing is so utterly subjective - one man's meat is another's poison in a MAJOR way where writing is concerned. That's why so many different things DO get published. But I digress ever so slightly.

When I talk about writing, I talk about my writing. Nobody else's. I talk about what worked or didn't work for ME. If I sit here and tell Joe Newbie that it is necessary to pay one's dues before one can step up to be counted as a professional that is something I honestly believe, and I have done it - there is a saying that every writer must produce one million words of drivel before writing something good, and I'm so there, I've written and read and written adn read all my life, I've worked my tail off to get to where I am, and yes, dagnabbit, I'm proud of being here - but pride isn't arrogance, and I fully realise that there are shining exceptions out there, people who write perfect gems the first time around and are in swaddling clothes when they do this and are in orbit around Alpha Centuri at an age when I was still standing on a hill blinking at the stars. The thing is, they are exceptions. The rest of us need to work at it. We need to know, also, when we have stopped writing the million words of practice crap and started writing the real thing. And for that, You Need Experience. Yours, or someone else's - just like you'd call in a plumber if you knew the showerhead was dripping or the garbage disposal in the kitchen sink was acting up but you had no clue how to go about fixing either problem. Asking for directions is okay (yes, even if you're a man [grin]). You are by no means obligated to follow those directions - but please don't assume, if you're newly begun on this road, that the person who's taking a breather by the side of the road as you are passing, and who warns you that there are dragons ahead, is merely trying to prevent you from pushing forward on the road. Sometimes a dragon is just a dragon. Pay attention to this person's pack. Is it lean and pared down and showing signs of wear and hard use, in other words is the person a bona-fide traveller along this same road who might have travelled farther than you and might have accumulated a smidge more road savvy? Pay attention to your own pack. Are you staggering under the weight of it, carrying too much that is unnecessary or even irrelevant? Are you dying of thirst because all you have is a daypack and you've been trekking for a week and you forgot to bring even a bottle of water... (well you know you aren't flying, not with that water in your hand baggage, what were you thinking... slaps self on wrist... stop digressing!)

See what I'm getting at?

It isn't arrogance, if you've had the experience and you are willing to share it. If there's anything worse than true arrogance it's fake humility and I won't be party to either. I stand where I stand - I know my road, and I'm willing to give advice and hints on how best I believe it is possible to navigate it. However I will do this in the manner in which my own candle was lit. I'll be honest. I'll even be blunt on occasion. And if what I say doesn't match what Joe Newbie doesn't want to hear I am not being arrogant and saying "Mine is a club in which you don't belong!" I might be telling the inquirer what the criteria for joining that club are, though. And leaving it up to that inquirere to decide whether or not they're worth meeting. But it's hardly arrogance to offer such information.

There. Got that off my chest, then. I guess I've just tripped over that particular speedbump in the road once too often.

Tags: writing, writing life, writing rant

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