Sunday, April 28, 2013

Clodhopping Through The Onion Patch

James Joyce once wrote, “Writing in English is the most ingenious torture ever devised for sins committed in previous lives. The English reading public explains the reason why.”

I like it when professional, accomplished authors complain about the state of the publishing industry.

I’m not talking about rank amateurs who, after several mocachino-fueled nights cranked out a young adult novel about a magical summer camp instructor who casts spells on the grotty brats under her care.

No, I’m referring to seasoned authors with multiple book contracts, agents and a rapidly growing fanbase thanks to e-readers.

Their dissatisfaction goes like this: With a plethora of publishing options including self-publishing for “indie authors” and small presses who “let everybody publish anything”, real authors are being squeezed out, pushed aside and losing potential readers.

I would support the argument that the publishing industry has grown in ways unimagined a decade ago. Surely, the rise of self-publishing and the invention on proliferation of e-readers are enticing options to some. Producing your work and getting it to readers today has changed from traditional publishing. Small presses are also popping up, offering writers another avenue to publication.
I can’t pity or emphasize with established writers who whine about the rising tide of sewage in the literature pool.

According to 19th century biologist and sociologist Herbert Spencer, the fittest shall survive, where the weak shall perish. Truly terrible writing, the kind that after reading it, you have a visceral reaction to punch a kitten in the throat, doesn’t last long. Non-professional writers who don’t take criticism, don’t listen to editors and act like snotty prima donnas always get their comeuppance. Instead of a five-book deal and an adoring legion of fans, they’re destined to return to that soul-crushing job at the Subway, picking nits from hoagie rolls and praying for the icy hand of Thanatos to rip them from existence.

Successful writers need not worry about a fickle reading public or the deluge of awful literature. Readers are always quick to criticize a book on Amazon and out truly bad writing.

This is why I’m particularly apprehensive. I read to understand the subtle nuances of the writing craft, why the author chose a particular voice for the characters and how the story unfolds. Like a gourmet picking apart the ingredients and flavors of a meal, I dissect writing. Vocabulary is especially important. I am a lover of words - a logophile - and savoring a story is like listening to a melodious symphony or devouring a box of Belgian chocolates.

When the right elements click in a story - characters, plot, dialogue - and swirl together to entertain, enlighten or amuse, I’m one happy reader. If an author can do that, capture me from the outset and take me on a journey using words, they’ve succeeded and are true masters of their craft.

I am only a pale shade, a faint apparition, compared to the great writers of today. Writers with modest successes who have published short stories, novels in several genres and who’ve made contacts in the publishing industry are to be admired.

They are truly talented, whereas my writing is akin to giving a gibbon a crayon and watching what transpires.

So many of these writers are successful because they’ve spent time developing their writing. Read anyone published professionally. Notice how elegant, lyrical and organic their words flow. In comparison to these wordsmiths, my writing is like clodhopping through the onion patch; clunky, awkward and ridiculous.

All’s not lost, though. I believe I’m making progress with my writing. Developing my unique voice, finding my niche in terms of genre, and understanding the publishing industry.

With each rejection, I glean additional insight as to what works and what doesn’t. Failure is not an option. I have stories to tell, experiences to share and insight to impart. It’s important for a writer to have something meaningful to communicate. Whether it’s stirring accounts of the human condition, a soul-searching navel-gazer or memoir about your experiences in a Lithuanian drum circle, there has to be cohesiveness in fiction. All elements of storytelling much unite in harmony. Otherwise, one winds up with confused readers punching kittens in the throat.

There has to be a method to our madness. Writing is not so much a craft as it is a coping mechanism for the insane world we live in. It’s our way of chronicling the madness and the beauty of existence. How can a planet with Beethoven, Ingmar Bergman films and mille-feuilles be the same place with Nicki Minaj, fried Twinkies and Honey Boo Boo? It’s as if life taunts us with extremes of good and bad, a tightrope walk between culture and stupidity, and we’re forced to reveal our preferences or plummet to our inevitable demise.

Reluctantly, we do, and as a consequence, are persecuted for writing our opinions.

That’s the problem with writing in this illiterate age, where discourse is reduced a series of primitive guttural grunts and shouting drowns out any dissent. People don’t give a wet fart if you write with articulate, concise conviction. All that matters is how many times your book made the New York Times bestseller lists or whether Hollywood optioned your work for a movie or what celebrity debutante mentions your book on a television talk show.

Can you imagine if Ernest Hemingway went on Ellen to promote “The Sun Also Rises” instead of getting shitfaced in a Paris brothel, then raiding the local boulangerie for croissants at 3 a.m.? Not to minimize the importance of promotion, but people remember a good drunken bakery story more than a chat with a television comedian.

So I continue on my perilous journey through this hazardous thing called writing. I might stumble, fall, or impale myself on a biro, but I’ll always stubbornly pull myself up, dust myself off, and bravely continue on.

In 1962 Jack Kerouac tried answering if writers were born or made. His answer is illuminating and insightful, as basic as a Zen koan without the pretentiousness from blog entry from any would-be scribbler.

Kerouac wrote, “It ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.” 

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