Pragmatism, The Art, and Publication
- Part I: What is the Pedagogical Strategy Here?
- Part II: Postmodern Tales of Show-Don't-Tell
- Part III: Will You Please Stop Writing, Please?
- Part IV: The Seven Reasons Why Writers Fail to Publish
- Part V: On to Publication and Greatness
Will You Please Stop Writing, Please?
Bottom line: if a writer is going to be intolerably dull or cliché, all I have to say to this person is: WILL YOU PLEASE STOP WRITING, PLEASE? They should get into accounting or model soldier-molding and STOP trying to write--after all, they might accidentally get published and this will just further compound the catastrophe ... "Ok," you say, "but show me a story that is 100% original!" Well, you got me there. Let's just accept there are clichés and there are CLICHÉS.
One way to avoid the trap is to thoroughly understand your genre, and read what is being published in the best magazines; and don't make what I call the Sydney Sheldon (or Joyce Carol Oates) mistake: the act of reading the ever-worsening pulp of an established writer old enough to be a legend in his own mind and then falsely believing you too can be published if only you write in similar fashion. You are a beginner and beginners must write better than established writers if they are going to break into quality publications!
One goal of this workshop is to explode all writing myths, and one of the biggest is: WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW. Ok, it's not that you must eschew writing what you know, but the ubiquity of the command heard booming loudly from all types of sources compel many of us to inexorably recreate the same stale stuff over and over and over again. It's ok though, sure, as long as it's fairly interesting and/or original, but ... how many of us leading really original lives? I know I don't. If I thought I could only write what I know I'd give up writing altogether, or else buy the first ticket to Tasmania and cross my fingers.
An excerpt from an article that appeared in Writer's Digest entitled "Stale Tales" helps make the point. The writer discusses his experience as an editor and the types of stories he saw again and again:
"Most popular were coming-of-age stories, usually told from the perspective of an adolescent protagonist, often in first person. We also received a lot of troubled-family stories, especially those involving the death (or the aftermath of the death) of a parent or child. Other troubled-family stories examined the effects of divorce and often featured single mothers bringing home inappropriate men or traveling cross-country with their hapless children and spending time in nondescript motel rooms. We also saw a fair number of stories whose protagonists were writers or predictably quirky Southern types who spent a lot of time on their porches. There were stories about lottery winners and stories about characters meeting homeless people who changed their lives. A disproportionate number of stories were set in New York City and in Boston. And then there were looking-for-love stories, those tales that chronicled the difficulties of dating and often included scenes in coffee shops ..."
"Nevertheless, if you're writing stories that deal with familiar subject matter, you should know that, when it comes to publication, you might be making things harder for yourself. In a sense, you're choosing to compete more directly with similar stories that fill every editor's slush pile. Also, you're inviting editors to make more direct comparisons between your story and others they've published."
So there you go. Try being an editor and seeing the same old tired stuff, so much so that even certain words cause you to reach for the flush lever. As a writer in the 21st century, you will be challenged to invent original stories. As a writer who has most likely not been published, it's imperative you invent original stories. Remember, as noted above, you're competing with thousands of other writers. What are the odds that your story matter, even if prose-smithed in a suitable way, will make the cut? You are being measured against all those others who've written more or less about the same thing.
Clearly, it's good policy to not only choose the right words but the right subject matter also. And if you are going to insist on delving into coffee shop angst, you best accomplish in an original manner and with original and interesting characters engaged in atypical behavior. Right?
I'll take a double-shot mocha with a purple marshmallow on top.