bad advice, part 2

On Writing

BAD ADVICE: “The writing life is essentially one of solitary confinement – if you can’t deal with this you needn’t apply.”

— Will Self

I take serious issue with this perspective.

Okay, so there’s this cultural picture of the writer, holed up in her study, bent over her keyboard blinking away the need for sleep because her muse is on a roll. And yeah, sometimes that happens. But that is not ‘the writing life’, at least not in my (admittedly limited) experience, nor do I think it should be.

That’s something that happens sometimes. Scratch that. Something that happens rarely.

So rarely, in fact, that you crave those days. They’re some of the best writing days. You don’t bath. You forget to eat. You don’t even notice the sun setting…or coming up…because you’re too focused. The words flow from your fingertips like the nine original Greek muses are all right fucking there, feeding you line after golden line.

But most writing days are nothing like that. And, believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

To quote Auguste Rodin, “The main thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to tremble, to live.”

A life lived in isolation is a life wasted. We’re here for connection. For relationship. It’s a basic component of how humanity is wired. How ironic and tragic that any artist should attempt to capture the human condition with paint, stone, word, or verse while failing to experience it for himself.

No, thank you. Not me.

I want my fiction to flow out of a full life. The day my art leads a coup, demanding that I sacrifice human connection for its sake, is the day I stop writing.

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bad advice, part 1

On WritingBad advice can impart wisdom just as easily as good advice. You know, provided you know it’s bad.

With that in mind, I’m going to spend a few weeks (I honestly don’t know how many yet) picking apart the bad advice of a few published writers.

But first, a side note/admission.

Yes, I know it’s nothing short of audacious (and maybe even borderline rude) to call out my peers (or betters, as the case may arguably be) for doling out less than stellar suggestions. My goal isn’t to tear people down or to deliver something sensational by going after big names.

Nope. My goal is to point out that not every writing tip is worth adopting.

The ultimate test is a simple one. Does it work for you? If it does, do it, and don’t let me or anyone else tell you otherwise. If not, ditch it and move on. The stuff I’ll cover in the next few posts is stuff that doesn’t work for me.

If it works for you, we can still be friends.

BAD ADVICE: “It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.”

— Jonathan Franzen

Franzen’s ruffled a few feathers since publishing his first novel. He had that feud with Oprah, thinks the ebook is a lesser literary vehicle, and doesn’t give a rat’s ass about your Tweets. Granted, he’s a published author who’s received his fair share of critical praise, but the advice above is pure nonsense.

Maybe internet access is a major distraction for him, but that doesn’t make it a major distraction for every writer. I use the internet during writing sessions with fairly consistent frequency. It’s particularly handy for quick, on-the-spot research. (And thesaurus.com. I know. I’m a philistine.)

When I’m in a writing frame of mind, it’s not really a struggle for me to avoid Facebook. I get lost in my own stories, and I tend to stay on track. While I could certainly be productive without an internet connection, I much prefer having one.

Franzen’s sweeping assessment takes what could be good advice too far. For some people, the internet is a very real distraction. That’s why there were approximately 249,976 articles written last year on ‘distraction-free writing’, and there are more minimalist writing programs than you would ever guess.

Note, however, that I did not use my internet connection to verify that number. I pulled it right out of my ass. Presumably, Franzen would be proud. Or disgusted.

Probably disgusted.

My point is, if your web browser makes it tough for you to maintain focus, isolate yourself from the interwebs when you’re working. If it doesn’t, don’t freak out. That doesn’t mean you’re writing bad fiction. It just means we don’t all struggle with the same thing.

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