Weekly Musing: Dogma

I decided to dedicate 2017 as the year I would question the validity of writing advice. Reexamine the rules and regulations drilled into writers via our writer friends and groups and which pop up on blogs and respected writing magazines. When you are new, or even more experienced, the message is to learn as much as possible. To do otherwise is to willingly handicap yourself.

Very little is said about writing for joy or as an expression of characters, stories, and feelings we’ve been carrying in our heads for years. Instead, we’re told to worry about genre and making sure we stick to the expectations while at the same time striving to break the mold. We’re told to start building an online presence before we even have a rough draft completed. Don’t forget to be active on social media and review every book we’ve ever read on Goodreads and Amazon. We’re told to start following agents and publishers on Twitter. Oh, and don’t forget to follow every blog known to man. Again, all before that rough draft is even done. It all comes across as people pleasing and discourages rocking the boat if you want to get published.

At some point, at least for me, it became too much; nothing but noise, a massive distraction, incredibly repetitive, and maybe even pointless. But who am I to question? I know nothing. Surely, I must be wrong because one does not disagree with such tried and true platitudes. Or can you?

Though this post from Anne R. Allen focuses on questioning the dogma which surrounds book marketing, I think the overall point is important. As writers, we should be skeptical of the dogmatic thinking within writing and publishing. It’s okay to wonder if the advice dispensed in Stephen King’s On Writing, a book considered by many to be an almost Bible of sorts for writers, still holds water. It’s okay to question what a blogger swear is the Absolute Truth and the Only Way To Do This is, indeed, the case. Pay close attention and it will quickly become apparent of the contradictory advice and rules. How confusing.

There are a few rebels willing to state don’t believe everything you read or told. What works for one author isn’t what will work for everyone despite confident assertions. That’s the biggest lesson I’ve come away with it. Go ahead and be skeptical. Realize one size does not fit all. Every institution and industry needs people willing to doubt the validity of standard practices and dogmatic thinking. As Allen points out in her blog post, much of the marketing advice is outdated. I’d argue much of the writing advice out there is outdated or will become outdated. Even some grammar rules are debated and changed.

I’m not saying everything out there is rubbish. It’s great to get ideas on how to improve productivity or tools to organize your thoughts or to learn more about structure or strengthen your grammar. At the same time, don’t be afraid to wonder if you need an 8-page long character sheet. Don’t be afraid to dismiss a book’s advice to fully diagram your story before writing a rough draft. Don’t be afraid to be anti-Oxford comma. You’re not a failure or any less of a writer. Also, don’t be trouble by NOT reading everything upon the subject of writing or publishing. At the end of the day what’s most important is writing your story; not if you have thousands of followers on Twitter. The writing itself should speak for itself and is what will attract readers.

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Weekly Musing: That One Book

A while ago I stumbled upon a suggestion for a blog post of talking about the one book which inspired me to write. The main point is to talk about whatever book it was in a positive light. For me, though, I have a different interpretation. For years there never was any one book or author which made me think I could write. I’d always assumed writers were highly intelligent and operated on a higher level. And even though I’d been messing around on and off throughout my life with ideas and starting stories, it wasn’t until I read Stephanie Meyers’s Twilight that I truly gathered the courage and inspiration to commit more fully to writing.

Now stay with me on this one. The main reason why Meyers’s book inspired and gave me confidence to write was because it’s so poorly written, in my opinion. It’s incredibly dull and boring. I can’t relate to any of the characters and couldn’t put myself in their shoes. Probably because I’m nearing 40 and YA really has never done it for me. Throw in lame ass vampires instead of cool, scary ones and you lose me altogether.

After I calmed down from wasting my time on the book, a voice in my head told me “I can writer better than that.” This voice prodded me to take writing more seriously and give it my full effort. Also, if something like this could get published and (unfortunately) become insanely popular, what’s to stop me from trying? Writing has always been one of my strengths and something I love even though my experience has primarily been academic. Naturally, this was before learning the publishing industry is a crap shoot.

Ruminating upon what about Twilight book made me believe in myself, I realized not only was the lackluster characters or banal plot, it’s also the writing style. I thought to myself if I had written, it’d be so much different. This then projected me to brainstorm what types of characters and books I’d like to see. Taking this one step further, I concluded if I wanted to see the kinds of stories and characters I long for, I come up with, then, hmm, the only person who can do that is me.

So, that’s what I started doing. It’s still a giant work in process putting onto paper the ideas. At times, it’s incredibly discouraging reading and hearing how going too far off the beaten path within a genre or flipping a trope on its head has a hard time getting picked up a traditional publisher. Apparently, it doesn’t matter if the publisher claims it wants stories like that. Knowing this add another level of overanalyzing to any story I’m working on. Though I’m supposed to not allow this train of thought, I constantly ask myself if whatever I’m working on is sellable.

But when I read a book that defies genre expectations, it gives me hope and inspiration. Oddly enough, that is something even drivel like Twilight possesses. It certainly created a world wherein vampires can survive during the day even if they sparkle like a bedazzled rodeo queen’s jacket. So, if sparkly vampires can sell, perhaps I should take a cue from it and use it as inspiration to be different.

Weekly Musing: Cease and Desist Part Two

A couple of years ago I did a blog post on my five least favorite words. Since then, the list has grown with a few more words I wish I could banish from the English language. Below are five more words who when spoken or read really grinds my gears.

Pop: I’m not so much against the word itself rather the phrase “Makes it pop”. I watch way too much HGTV where the phrase “Makes it pop” is uttered at least half a dozen times in any given program. I also hear this phrase outside of HGTV in reference to anything that makes something else standout.

While it’s a great, easy word to describe something which is more noticeable, I’d like to see different words and phrases mixed in. For example, how about using stands out, contrast, or noticeable?

Tremendous: Since the 2016 Presidential election, this word has lost meaning for me. Instead of tremendous let’s use marvelous, wonderful, great, incredible, fantastic, magnificent, any number of synonyms for this word. Let’s go back to using this word sparingly so that when we do hear it or see it, we don’t roll our eyes or make fun of its usage.

Misogyny: First, let’s have the actual definition. Pretty straight forward and simple, yet I see this word misused all the time. It seems many people believe something or someone is misogynist if at any time anything bad happens to a woman. As a writer, I see this word overly used to describe an author, always a male author, as being a misogynist simply because a female or females endures trauma. Never mind that a work of fiction is not a reflection of how the author thinks or feels as a human. However, I have yet to see a female writer be labeled a misogynist if female characters in her story suffer rape or abuse. In that case the female writer is probably lauded as bringing the experience of female suffering to the masses.

In looking at the definition of misogyny we see no gender distinction. See, I don’t believe misogyny is exclusive to only men. There are women out there who despise their own gender and act with prejudice against other females. Would this not make them misogynists?

Curiously I do not see the male equivalent of this word, misandry, used. Certainly, there are females who harbor a hatred, dislike, or mistrust of men or who harbor prejudice against men. Do we not have books, movies, and TV shows where women inflict abuse upon men simply because they are a man? Do we not see how it is social acceptable for a group of women to rip on men? But if a group of men did the same thing, used the same language in the same tone of voice, we’d scream “Misogyny!”

The overuse and misuse of this word revels a double-standard in society and why we need to think before using it.

Terrorism/Terrorist: Two more words which, in my opinion, are overused and used incorrectly. Here are the definitions of terrorism and terrorist. Ever since 9/11, terrorism and terrorist have been overused and more troubling, misused. We have seen these words used in a bias manner to create a dangerous “us vs. them” narrative. After all, what is the difference between someone who identifies as a white supremacist and who attacks parishioners of a black church and the 9/11 attackers? Both committed crimes meant to scare and intimidate people based upon intense hate.

Not only do these words show bias, they are way overused. People have been committing acts of terrorism for thousands of years. History is littered with revolutionaries who, yes, committed what could be considered terrorist acts against numerous governments. Groups of people have killed and intimated others simply for being different. Is this not terrorism? After all it is a deliberate, calculated attempt at scaring others. Yet humans have rarely uttered the words terrorist or terrorism until the 21st century.

 

There you have it, a few more words I can’t stand. As you can tell the theme of why they bug me so much is either incorrect use or being repeated so much they become white noise. To me this shows a lack of creativity or ability to use a thesaurus. It also changes the impact of those words. Some are meant to illicit anger and outrage to push a hate-filled agenda. Others lose their impact by becoming white noise. Words hold so much power, let’s be smarter about how we use them.