My love-hate relationship with writing advice

I do not write in isolation.
I have a spouse (roommate/compatriot/lover/best friend) who expresses strong ideas about my lack       of self-promotion.
I am in three critique groups, each worthy of my devotion.
I have attended various writing retreats/programs (Centrum five times).
I was in a masters degree writing program (UC-Davis) before blowing town.
I spend several computer hours each day reading and researching about writing.
And it’s relevant to this piece that I began writing for publication well before the computer age, producing books, daily journalism, and academic stuff.

But I sometimes wonder whether I wouldn’t have been better off, writing production-wise, in a cell, solitarily confined.  How much have I gained from all of those (these) writing-related activities?

I cherish the comments I receive in critique groups, because the folks are usually paying attention to the work, though I use maybe one out of five comments.

I seldom go to writing conferences anymore because they yank me out of writing-mode, and most of the general advice I’ve heard before. The specific advice applicable to my pages hits home (is useful), again, maybe one in five.

As to writer-blogs and the bounties of the internet in general, it’s like trying to squash a one-pound slice of chocolate decadence cake into a four-ounce Chinese take-out container.  (Well, maybe not, though some of you will resonate to my meaning.)  Along with the tons of horrid junk available on the www, we can find some great stuff—Anne R. Allen’s blog, The Millions, Kristen Lamb , Jane Friedman, etc.—but even these take loads of time.   Sure, you can access the stuff fast, but you still need to digest and use it at far less than warp speed.  (One answer, of course, is for humans to evolve into cyborgs, which is not the sort of progress I would hope for.)

Maybe the origin of my problem lies way, way back in childhood.  “Shmuck!,” my mother used to say (not actually; it just felt that way), “Your eyes are too big for your stomach!”  I want the advice, but I don’t want it.  It takes too much time to get, then mostly reject.

So, who says I have to spend the time seeking it?  But if I don’t, then maybe I’m missing things.  A new writer-help program or product.  Insight or information about selling (a term I prefer to “submitting”) my writing.  New tricks for an ever-trickier trade.  The wonders of self/indie-publishing vs. the horrors of traditional publishing.  And vice versa.

And what if Asteriod XXX-fortyskugelfogwahwah passes too close to earth and wipes out all our data and programs and chapters?  What will literary (more or less) civilization do then?  Go back to the methods of Faulkner, Hemingway, Mansfield, Woolf, Huxley, Fitzgerald, Joyce, Wharton, Lawrence, Ferber, etc.?  Wouldn’t that be awful, to have a new generation that wrote with less advice and minimal machinery?

Laszlo Luddite, guest poster

The Fiction-writing Apocalypse…Or Not?


In the ever-tweakable world of writing on, if not for, the internet:  E-publishing Division, Amazon has added another tweak:  Kindle Serials, as expounded upon by Porter Anderson (on the great Jane Friedman’s blog).  Home base of the discussion seems to be, “If Charles Dickens could serialize his novels, why not 21st Century writers?”  And Amazon, as usual, is the provider (or enabler) of such writer-friendly venues.  Kindle Serials is subtitled, “Great Reads, one episode at a time.”  Sounds great, right?  To me, too.  But Porter Anderson raises an interesting and important question (marketing- related, of course) for would-be serializers to consider:  If a story is going to be serialized (i.e., released piecemeal to the public over time), why not “improve it,” given the opportunity to get feedback from readers over that time?

I put “improve it” in quotes because that’s the issue, isn’t it, whether the likes/dislikes/ideas of readers would improve the author’s product, especially when those are the people presumably buying it?  Would that process improve a piece of writing, or simply result in the proverbial camel, venerably defined as a horse designed by committee.  Well, here is my unabashedly sarcasm-loaded opinion on that:

Reader-influenced serialized stories, hmmm. Why not apply that process to musical compositions, even opera? Or how about paintings? Or dance. Have each performance stop at several points and have the audience vote on the next movements, whether or not they know anything about dance. Seems great for Broadway productions, right? The ultimate in audience participation.

But why stop there? Let readers—writing seems the most available for this, given its unfolding nature and the time it takes—grab each subsequent chapter and run with it, submitting their individual efforts to the “readership,” then have that readership—for a fee. Weee!—vote for the best submitted chapter, and so and so on. ‘T’would be the ultimate in this our Interactive/Interconnected Age. I just love 21st Century progress.

Missing in this commentary, of course, are other issues, such as ownership of a work, artistic unity, and the author’s original intent, etc, which should be considered.  Soooo, consider them, please, and let me/us know your thinking.