April 7, 2013

Slice of PIE: Driving To Work and Writing...

Every morning for the past 23 years, I’ve driven pretty much the same route to work.

Every morning for the past 23 years, there’s someone on the road who APPEARS to have the following attitude:

1)      “I would have been on time, except I got behind this really STUPID, OLD, POS pickup truck that wouldn’t get out of my way!” The problem with this attitude is that my stupid, old pickup truck has nothing to do with you running behind. You didn’t get into the car until you were behind schedule. You’re behind schedule because you didn’t get up soon enough. You didn’t get up soon enough because you just didn’t want to get up. Ergo – it’s the stupid, old pickup truck’s fault that you didn’t feel like getting up on time.

2)     “I have to break the speed limit and go faster than everyone else to make sure people know that I’m in charge of my own life and I’m the BOSS!” The problem with this attitude is that the road is shared by all kinds of people. Some of them prefer to follow the laws. They typically don’t have the revelation that you’re the boss. They have the revelation that you’re an idiot.

3)     “I own the road and my car is the only one that counts!” Obviously you don’t and it’s not. ACTING like this is true makes people shake their heads at you and think you’re an idiot.

4)     “NO ONE can tell me what to do!” When you get pulled over for breaking the law, the officer will tell you what you should have been doing. They will also hand you a piece of paper that says what you WILL be doing. These kinds of people often then tell their family and colleagues that, “These cops are just out to fill their quotas!” ignoring the fact that they broke the law and that’s what cops are there for – to enforce the law.

5)     “This whole driving thing is all about ME!” Aside from the obvious presence of thousands of other cars on the road (roughly 250,000,000 in the US alone. China is catching up!), these kinds of people believe firmly that laws were written for other people and that they are some kind of affront to the personal freedom every American insists is theirs and theirs alone. For them, a YIELD sign means, “Get out of my way, here I come!” They also believe that merging lanes mean, “Get out my way, here I come!” Yellow lights serve the same purpose in everyday driving.

How does this relate to writing?

There are a surprising number of parallels that I see and read on the websites I visit.

1)      “I’d be published now except that editors only publish people they like!” No. Editors publish people their READERS will like. That’s their job. They send stories back...Oh, that’s right, editors don’t send ANYTHING back any more. They send emails. And if it’s not instantaneous gratification, then “the market’s wrong!” It has nothing to do with the fact that your writing STINKS and that you haven’t bothered to get up early enough to START WORKING ON YOUR WRITING.

2)     “I need to get published NOW so I can tell people that getting published is EASY and they should be published like me! I’m the boss!” Getting published STILL isn’t easy, yet with the advent of electronic submissions and the elimination of paper as a viable medium for publication, everything happens fast. So writers expect that NO MATTER WHAT, they should be published FAST, the editorial response should be well-nigh unto instant, and seeing your piece in “print” should be an expectation rather than an anomaly. They want to be their own bosses and publish themselves – because no one understands them.

3)     “My story is better than all these other ones getting published today! No one understands my genius! I think my story is brilliant, unprecedented and absolutely original!” Because many writers today “started writing speculative fiction last month” and then expect that the apprenticeship period will be brief, [because, after all THEIR ideas are NEW! They have their finger of the CAROTID ARTERY of speculative fiction today and what they have written HAS NOTHING AT ALL TO DO WITH ALL THAT ‘OLD STUFF’ written like, in the 90s. That’s passé, what’s past is past, this is today; MY STUFF IS NEW!], their anticipation of the instant recognition of their innovative genius appears to be very high. Even with epubbing, the writing has to be good. Without PRACTICE and READING in the field, it won’t be. I read the first paragraph of the majority of self-pubbed novels and think, “Here’s another idiot writer.”

4)     “All traditional publishers are evil and their sole intent is to make money – which has nothing to do with bringing up good writers who write powerful fiction. Oh, and paper is dead, Amazon is god – they give me exactly what I want! Instant gratification! NO ONE can tell me what they want to publish!” While mediocre writers rush past apprenticeships to publish their FABULOUS WRITING through venues like Smashwords, Createspace, XLibris and zillions of others – because no one understands their genius, traditional publishers are evil moneylords, and “I’m just as good as anyone else who got their book published – my Mom SAYS SO!” These people often read and reread the success stories and ignore the facts. (In case one of you is reading this, try this cold assessment on for size: http://www.wisegeek.org/what-is-e-publishing.htm)

5)     “My writing is all about ME!” That’s true. It is. My writing is all about me, too. But should it be? Was Heinlein’s writing all about himself? JK Rowling’s? Cory Doctrow? John Scalzi? Charles de Lint? No. Their writing was NOT all about them. They had something to say. You cannot convince me that the endless number of “space war” novels I have skimmed through on Amazon are Joe Haldeman-ish attempts to recreate THE FOREVER WAR. They are mostly “innovative” repeats of David Weber’s HONOR HARRINGTON books, John Ringo or any of the other masters or space war fiction – but they aren’t innovating. They are copying substance whilst changing details.

Bad drivers and bad writers seem to have a lot in common.


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