Sunday, March 29, 2009

Op-Ed-The ugly side of writing

A quick scan of various writer's loops I belong to has revealed a few things. We as writers are more critical of popular works of fiction then any critic. I'm reading blogs and e-mails where authors are grumbling about books, bad story lines, poorly written words, throwing books against the wall, pulling their hair out about why this trend in fiction is "flying off shelves" and not their trend. Aren't people tired of (insert whatever trend you can't break into here) vampires, werewolves, born-again preaching, sweeping fantasy epics, Navy Seals, Templar knights, international wars, gun runners, pirates, etc. etc. etc.

We gang up on stuff we can't sell but is popular- "Chicklit is dead for a reason...it had no plot!" Picture various writers who couldn't break into the Chicklit market dancing with glee around a bonfire of Chicklit books, stabbing it with their steely knives-baring vampire fangs...

Meanwhile another group waits in the dark edges for the vampire to die...secretly throwing vampire books at walls, muttering how Stephanie Meyer doesn't deserve her acclaim or money because she clearly is a bad writer. When the vampire trend is over-and it will go away for a while- they will come out to dance with glee around the bonfire of yet another trend they themselves couldn't break into.

It happened to the angel trend- it happened to the historical trend- it happened to westerns...

Why so much animosity? (Trust me, I am not immune. I have been known to utter the words "God hates me." I've been known to feel as if it's all some cosmic joke-to give me the talent, the drive, the story sight and then leave out the luck portion that will actually allow me to use all that to support myself.) In my opinion, it all boils down to the random acts of God that is the publishing business. What you have is a bunch of control freaks*-yes, as writers of fiction we are control freaks-who can't control readers, markets, publishers or trends. It why humans are superstitious- even the most talented sports player wears a lucky shirt/socks/shoes/hat because he knows that as good as he is-this game, this tournament has elements that are beyond his control. It's why farmers do everything they can for good crops but mostly pray to God for good weather.

So-take a bunch of control freaks-feed them "rules" of story and grammar and trends- tell them they are good at what they do, maybe even great- then shove them in a room full of chaos where success is a matter of dumb luck. Watch the frustration grow. What you get is people banding together to weather the storm of loss, waiting in the darkness for the perceived winners to fall from grace, building bonfires when they do.

As tempting as it is, it's really not helpful. It doesn't change the market. Throwing books, howling that so and so is a bad writer, bemoaning the fact that humor has been lost, desperately chasing trends, none of these things will change the random, subjective world writers live in...

Yes- it's crazy and UNFAIR and sometimes harsh, but look around people. Its life. So, let's all take a deep breath...in....and out....and find a story we can control...pour our efforts into the plot and conflict and characters we create. (Sure, take a moment to bemoan, but only a moment. Then remember the serenity prayer.) And most importantly, allow the successful to have their success-someday-it might just be you.

*Fiction writers are the ultimate control freaks. We are little gods. We say what color the sky is. We say what the hero/heroine looks like, how they feel, what they think, what they like or dislike. We control the weather, the cities, the houses. We create religions. We create good and evil and peace and conflict. We murder. We bring people back from the dead. We create heaven and hell. We control every word, every nuance, and grumble when the editor wants to mess with it. Maybe even choose to ignore what they say...Yeah- control freaks.

14 comments:

Marty said...

Nancy, sometimes it happens that all the stars align for some and they make it big in the writing world. When I finished my screenplay one of my early readers enthused, “You write like Stephen King.” I was horrified! (wink)

Nancy J. Parra said...

Marty- LOL!

I think the key is to not take it all so seriously. Thus the view of glee filled writers dancing around a bonfire of someone else's books.

Jessica said...

What??? I'm a control-freak? LOL
Seriously, you're right. It's ugly to hear writers bash other writers. I have to be careful too when I read books because I'm definitely more critical now that I know the "rules". Good post.
I think there is quite a bit of jealousy too, which is even uglier.

You're right, it's talent and luck and good timing. Nothing to get upset over. LOL

Kathryn Magendie said...

An insightful and thought-provoking post - and a true one. I don't waste my time be-moaning someone else's success and I don't judge whether they should be a success or not -- well, not that I haven't wanted to throw a book across the room or thought "I don't get it" -- but I also know that things are just what they are....

Mostly, someone else's success doesn't take away from mine (well, my hopeful success *laugh*)...

Love this post.

I think Jessca's word "jealousy" is the key -- I hope I am never jealous of another writer's success or joy: A teaspoon of envy motivates; jealousy however is toxic and petty.

Justus M. Bowman said...

Excellent post. Most of it's true, but all my success came from burning bestsellers.

Fire + Bestseller = Success

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Yes, jealousy is probably the main cause! "Why did THAT writer get accepted by one of the big six publishers and promoted as the next best-seller???"

As they say - life is not fair. Get over it!

L. Diane Wolfe
www.circleoffriendsbooks.blogspot.com
www.spunkonastick.net
www.thecircleoffriends.net

Marilyn Brant said...

Wonderful post, Nancy. The professional jealousy thing is real and, as you noted, it can be very ugly.

I read a great quote from writer Martha Beck in her book THE JOY DIET, and she addresses the idea of not taking our careers so seriously or so personally. It's a bit long, but I think she makes a lot of sense:

"...in every professional discipline, there seem to be two types of extraordinarily successful people. On one hand, there are those who absolutely believe that the game they're playing is Real Life, who would kill or die to win. These people may dominate their games for a time by sheer force of will, but they often seem stressed and joyless, unable to feel satisfied even by their amazing achievements. On the other hand, there are the people who see very clearly that their profession is a game, but who simply love playing it. These people enjoy their successes with wholehearted delight and joke about their failures with sheepish good humor. They care about their work, but it is not the foundation of their happiness."

Nancy J. Parra said...

Great quote, Marilyn! I strive to be the second kind. At least I have the laughing at my mistakes part down...

Jessica- LOL- we love being control freaks!

Kathryn, you are right about envy vs. jealousy- it's a fine line sometimes.

Justus-HA! fire+bestseller = success... not saying it isn't human to be tempted....

L. Diane- no truer words were said.

Morgan Mandel said...

You can't fight City Hall, they say. You have to go with the flow, accept the bad with the good.

Morgan Mandel
http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

Anita said...

I may have started writing just so I could control something!

Howard said...

Excellent blog and so true. Even with famous authors getting into the act, like with King's comments on Meyer...which reminds me, I have to go kick the crap out of a Twilight book ;)

Cindy said...

Lol, I like being able to control things. I think it's great when I can give my antagonist what he deserves and then my hero all the good fortune he deserves. But you're write, we're huge critics. We should give ourselves time to consider why this other writer found success (even if we believe it's just dumb luck) and then take the passion and inspiration from that and work on something we feel can be great.

~Sia McKye~ said...

I'm the sort that goes into a room of chaos and starts watching for the patterns. Make sense of the chaos and find my path. For sure, I realize there are few things in life you can control so why waste the energy trying to control the uncontrollable?

While I'm ambitious, determined, and success oriented I've never been a type A personality. I feel that yes there is some luck involved but watching the patterns I try to place myself where I can take advantage of the that thread of luck. I also feel there is a good deal of work involved. So, I work.

I have a good friend that says getting published is like a lightening strike. It's there and it happens more times than we realize, so I the one out in the storms carrying the lightening rod and trying to draw the lightening.

The thing about jealousy, aside from making you bitter, is the fact that while you are so busy bemoaning other's successes you don't have the time to work on your own.

I don’t believe that most of the books published out there are junk; there are many good ones regardless of the genre. I don't begrudge someone else’s success. Good for them and I’ll have my own soon enough unless I give up. Which is not my style. I always have my eye open to look for my own luck. “Opportunity dances with those already on the dance floor.”

So dance.

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