Saturday, September 21, 2013

Failure Is a Good Option



A friend of mine recently posted a cartoon which represents America’s schoolchildren as the Trophy generation where everyone wins! Failure is not an option is a popular mantra among educators. Here‘s the thing:not everyone is good at everything.

This same principle applies to writing. Anyone with a third grade education has the ability to write. He or she can form sentences, and pen a basic paragraph.. Pretty much anyone who is literate is capable of writing a letter, a Facebook post or tweet (albeit tons of these are misspelled and grammatically incorrect}, but not everyone should be a writer.

The digital ere has allowed the masses unlimited possibilities to splay one’s opinions (case in point this blog) or to share their Wretched American Novels and market them on Amazon. Granted, many so called “authors” have become successful, selling their uncorrected first drafts online. Fifty Shades of Gray, an abysmal series of soft core porn novel, made E. L. James a millionaire, but James is not an author. She is someone who put words on a page and sold gazillions of books. For those of us who pay attention to our craft, such successes represent a horror story.

Call me a word snob, but real writers pay attention to the craft. They carefully constrict syntax and suffer over using the correct word. Real writers don’t share their writings until they believe the words are right. And I’m not talking about “literary writers, the Virginia Woolfs and Cormac McCarthys; many bestselling authors, such as J.K. Rowling, Carl Hiassen and Elmore Leonard suffer over their syntax.  Even the prolific Stephen King pays attention to his craft. When you read one of these authors’s novels you are not reading first draft materials using an sixth grade vocabulary. I’m not a Dan Brown fan because his sentences give me hives, but even Brown researches his works and takes time to structure a readable, accurate story which engages people in meaningful dialogue about religious history.

I’m also not talking about Pulp fiction and romance. Beach reads. Well crafted stories, entertaining, good for one read, fairly easy to forget. When I was an undergrad, my advisor told me to read trashy novels because I was too absorbed in academic reading and he feared I would grow to hate reading. Every Sunday I read a Harlequin romance. (One of my roommates had scads of them in our apartment.)I don't remember any of them, but each book took me out of myself for awhile. And I can guarantee the words flowed well enough because even as a lowly undergrad I was a syntax snob.

My bone of contention is schlock like Fifty Shades of Gray dilutes the credibility of the book market by letting ‘fast food writing’ become the norm. Yes, we should “give the people what they want,” but don’t readers want more than trash? I worry that our national IQ is dipping to an all time low because this sort of book gets a trophy. This makes it more difficult for the real writers to get their stories published because the market is flooded with cheese, and movie and marketing deals for such debris make piles of money for the ever struggling publishing companies in movie deals

Am I jealous of E.L James? Hell yes. I wish I had her bank account, but I don’t envy her credibility as a “writer”. In fact, I feel sorry for her. What motivation does James have to write something well-crafted? And if she ever writes serious fiction, can critics take her seriously? I want my books to sell, yet I also want my stories to be appreciated for their well developed characters, plausible, memorable plots, well placed diction, and elegant syntax.  If I am ever to win an award for my work, I hope it is for something I am not embarrassed having out there.

If you want to write, write, and don’t be afraid to founder. Fail, and fail again. Real writing comes from learning from your failures..
Happy writing.

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