A snarky take on writing.

March 19, 2014

blood+writingWe writers do shed our lifeblood on the page, it’s very true. We suffer over every word, we think we’re inadequate, we don’t like others to see our work until it’s perfect and once in a while we sell a piece that we wish we could rewrite and that plagues us more than it really should.  All of this is true.

I’ve been browsing around in a bunch of online writers’ groups that have no membership criteria and I’ve found something else to be true:  There is a boatload of bad writing out there.

More than one boatload, actually.

A world of horrific writing.

Writing that burned my eyes so badly when I began to read it I was certain I’d be struck blind if I read more.

Writing that should have never seen the light of day.

After reading some of this writing on a rainy day not too long ago, I came to these conclusions:

Bad-book

  1. The fact that a book is published is no guarantee of it being worthy of publishing.  Thank you, self-publishing, for lowering the common denominator so far that it’s practically underground. But it’s not; if it were, I wouldn’t have found it. But some of those books should be buried deeply. Immediately. I’d be glad to dig the first shovelful of dirt.
  2. Some parts of the internet have become cesspools of bad writing.  Those places should be quarantined so they don’t contaminate the rest of the Internet.
  3. There are people who don’t know enough about writing to recognize how bad theirs is. Or they’d never let the public see it.  Who SHOULD see it, though, are writing coaches and editors.
  4. There is also some delightful writing. I feel sorry for those excellent writers because today, there’s no differentiation between real writers and those who simply can not write their way out of a paper bag.

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p>Before you fledgling writers who are studying your craft in workshops and reading books and taking courses think I’m talking about you, let me make it clear: I am not. All credit to you who are developing the skill.  I am talking about people who spew words on a page without any interest in learning the craft. Who self-publish without guidance from an editor. If you read what I read the other day, well, you’d be digging the hole along with me.

There was a day when being a writer meant something. It’s finally dawning on me that it doesn’t mean what it once did.

Do you agree? And why or why not?  I’d love to know.

24 comments on “A snarky take on writing.
  1. I agree. I’m no a trained writer, but I have the good since to work with qualified editor and use the tools she recommends. It makes a difference.

  2. Sadly, I agree. It’s shocking to me how much bad writing is out there — so many spelling and grammar mistakes and so much terrible punctuation, it makes me cringe. I think it’s because the internet demands endless amounts of content, and there are people who are happy to put it out there whether or not they have any idea what they’re doing.

  3. Lynne says:

    I get frustrated when writers use profanity, especially the “F-bomb,” and then their “work” goes viral. Anyone can string together a line of cuss words that could make a sailor blush. The real creativity is in not resorting to that level.

  4. Helene Cohen Bludman says:

    I couldn’t agree more. And I confess to being a writing snob. Just let me see “your” used instead of the correct “you’re” and I’m outta there.

  5. Tammy says:

    I do agree, no doubt about it. Self publishing has opened the gates of hell. BUT, (you knew there would be a but) it has also allowed some pretty awesome writers to get read and develop a following. Some even make a living from it. I’m a Steven King fan. A weird duck if ever there was one. I read a story of his not too long ago, and thought to myself “well, that was crap”. Yup. Crap and brilliance, just like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholding reader.

  6. Denise Baer says:

    Agree. I recently wrote a blog post about being a disgruntled reader.

    Self-publishing opened the flood gates for anyone to put words on a page and share with the world. The beauty of writing is stifled between the hundreds, no thousands, of ugly attempts. This doesn’t only apply to self-published books. I’ve been disappointed in many traditional books. We’re supposed to put them on a higher scale, but the scale seems to be tipping low.

  7. Doreen McGettigan says:

    I agree 100%. Last year I did some book reviews for a magazine and I was shocked by how very bad a few of them were. In one of my reviews I wrote that I actually would have loved the book if it had been edited. The story and characters were strong. The guy told me his wife did the editing. I asked him what his wife did for a living and he said she was an ultrasound tech. No words.
    I am editing my second book now and I have nightmares about typos and grammar. I am not good at either of those things so there is no way I could ever pull it off without professional editors. If only I had editors for my blog:)
    Honestly I read two books recently that were published traditionally and they were awful.
    Sadly I think the bar has been lowered.
    I am judging a memoir contest now and all I can say is sigh…

  8. I’ll throw my hat in with the “agrees.” Sadly, I don’t see it getting better any time soon. I have students who actually turn in essays in ‘text-speak.’ Writing conventions are bad enough, but even when I try to wring a bit of creativity out of them, they often put on the brakes because it requires too much effort. Other forms of media don’t help. Anything imaginable can now be rendered realistically on film. Who needs imagination when every picture is provided for you?

    I truly believe one must be a voracious reader before he or she has a chance of being a decent writer. Sadly, it seems there are fewer readers and fewer still who read anything of quality.

  9. While I agree there is some pretty terrible writing on the internet and in the world today, I happen to think that it is just a continuing indicator that writing and publishing are changing at an incredible pace. Similar to the music industry, things are changing so rapidly that it’s difficult to imagine where it will end up. But I’ve always believed that water rises to its own level and that each of us as writers (no matter what we are writing) will attract our own audience regardless of the quality or the topic. Instead I can’t help feeling that keeping my focus on my own developing skill as a writer is the very best thing I can do to raise the bar for all writing and to stay adaptable to the changing climate for us all.

  10. I think I agree with Kathy. The industry is inundated right now with all those people who are basically typing “The End,” and then instantly publishing it to Smashwords, Kobo, iBookstore, and Amazon so quickly that the electrons haven’t even had a chance to settle. But I think that will even out, over time. It’s hard to make a living as a writer even with professional editing and a marketing department. (Or so I hear; I’m not published, yet.) Most of these kids (and I use that term carefully) are still operating under the myth that writing is easy, anyone can do it as well as Steven King, and authors become millionaires and only have to work a couple of hours each day. The shattering expectations are almost audible when their hastily scrawled pabulum doesn’t allow them to instantly quit their jobs.

    There is a ton of crap available out there, but people aren’t buying it, for the most part, from what I can tell. Maybe because of the sheer volume if it that’s available. People do still want decent writing, even those who wouldn’t know ‘who’ from ‘whom’ or when to use a semicolon.

    I’m a total grammar Nazi (I’ll edit this comment 8 or 9 times before clicking “Post Comment”) and even I have discovered that if the story is compelling enough, I can overlook a certain amount of poor usage and concentrate on the story. I recently read a self-published collection of short stories called Immortal L. A., which I thoroughly enjoyed in spite of the aforementioned grammar problems.

    I have nothing but respect for the people who have self-published decent work and have won fans through self-promotion and a ton of hard work. Because they’ve earned it. Those others . . . well, if they’re serious about writing, they’ll keep at it and get better and learn the error of their ways. I hope. 🙂

    • admin says:

      It’s funny. I know several traditionally published authors I respect who have also self published and the self published work is pretty much crap. The traditionally published work excels. There is a definite lesson there.

      • chuck house says:

        Carol writes: “I know several traditionally published authors I respect who have also self published and the self published work is pretty much crap. The traditionally published work excels. There is a definite lesson there.”
        4I don’t agree, Carol. Most of my colleagues at Stanford have ‘better books’ in Lulu than they did with Stanford and Harvard Press; they’ve given up on the academic presses once they had a reputation established. Yes, the academic presses are still vital for that, but even that is under challenge.
        The trend here to watch are the new mini-monographs, such as Stanford Briefs and Palgrave-Macmillan. These are 20,000-50,000 word e-books, ostensibly vetted like a true book manuscript, and aimed at filling a ‘new niche’ and also qualified to be considered publications for tenure tracks.

  11. chuck house says:

    I agree with Carol’s point, and would add support for Kathy and Gary’s observations. But I think this problem is more systemic than is being described here. The issue goes well beyond spelling, punctuation and syntax, and it is a bit unfair to malign self-publishing in my view. I’ve published multiple books, with trade presses, society presses, academic presses, and Lulu. The LuLu experience was easily the best of the past four experiences. The editors at the ‘real presses’ are depressing individuals often, intent on spelling and syntax errors (which is good) but sadly lacking with respect to ‘situation and story’ or ‘arc’ or compelling material. Their fact-checking is next to non-existent. And many presses these days are saying, “we no longer do this; you have to hire your own editor.” Marketing by the popular presses, and acceptance criteria for manuscripts, is laughable.
    What I find most distressing is not the thousands of poor pages spewed out by erstwhile ‘authors,’ but the plagiarism and/or shallow research in the professional ranks, which is appalling, and seemingly the imprimatur of ‘our best writers’ (e.g. Maurreen Doud, Stephen Ambrose, Walt Isaacson, and that once-well-respected Harvard teacher of writing and writing ethics–Doris Kearns). I think the point of the ‘lowered-bar’ for the presses and the virtual death of investigative reporting due to the Craig’s List impact on newspaper journalism is much more concerning for democracy than the pulp generated via personal blogs and self-published ‘books.’

  12. chuck house says:

    For a snippet re Doris Kearns Goodwin’s ‘transgression’ see http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/chatterbox/2002/01/doris_kearns_goodwin_liar.html

  13. John von Daler says:

    I read somewhere (“1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare” by James Shapiro) that Shakespeare’s audience knew the theater exceptionally well, so well in fact that they made his great works possible through their understanding and response. Maybe our time is defined by too many potential writers and too few good readers. Perhaps all the television and movies have made us forget how to understand words and sentences; we lack a good and distinguished audience for our writing. Maybe what we need is a lot more good readers and, after they are established, writers who create works for that audience by learning not just to show, but to TELL with all those wonderful words in the English language.

  14. Puneet Kumar says:

    I have heard that early bird catches the worm but I am happy that I join your blog after a short while,

    That gives me time to read also the others comments.

    Honestly, English is my second language and I carry this feeling that those who are native English speakers have advantage in writing too. OOOPS! I am wrong. Writing is a challenge equally for everyone.

    It is very important to grant some time to your writing so that fresh things could come and writing could get more polished, gain maturity. Of course I agree in a first go a writer has definitely given his heart and soul into his writing but to see the soul in the writing it is advisable to give some extra time.

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