So, sometime last week, Sarah found this page of alleged advice to writers, produced by someone who is not a writer. The list of egregious faults in said page is truly mind-boggling, and I’m reliably informed that members of the Hoyt Collective invented new forms of swearing due to reading this.
So don’t come whining to me about your brains exploding from the sheer quantity and execrable quality of the wrong in this thing. You have been warned.
On to the alleged advice. It comes in the form of one of those ever-popular “Ten things” lists. Presumably there’s something magical about having ten of them, since 9 or eleventy-bajillion never seems to happen. The 10 things part on its own would overload the WTF-per-minute-ometer but the explanations for each “thing” really blew the poor thing to pieces – and my WTF-per-minute-ometer is the best model you can get, specially optimized for antique, quirky software.
Thing one: Spend a day being a troll (under your own name, according to the advice section), then end the day by sincerely apologizing for being such an obstreperous wanker. This, the good lady tells us, is necessary to teach us to endure shame and shut down the inner censor.
Really? Sweetheart, if you saw half what my inner censor blocks, you’d run screaming into the night. As for enduring shame, if you need an external source to teach you that, you haven’t lost your moral compass: you never had one in the first place. Aside from which, this kind of thing is only appropriate for journaling as therapy. While I’d be the first person to say that writing fiction can be wonderfully therapeutic, that’s a side benefit. The main thing I’m trying to do is tell a damn good story as well as I possibly can.
Thing two: Spend a day being silent. This is apparently an exercise in self-awareness, although as a raging introvert who’s spent years living alone, only one day of silence is easy. I might exchange ten words with people during a normal day – and I’m married (the husband and I share some remarkably eloquent silences). One of my favorite activities is to find myself a pleasant location and sit and just absorb it. I’ll talk when I need to – like when the supermarket checkout girl wants to know if I’m going to use paper, plastic or something else. I’m not going to make the poor thing’s life any harder by going through some stupid pantomime in the interest of becoming more self-aware.
Thing three: Spend a day as a “student of reality” (I’m not making this up, you know) This, the editor-female says, is to teach us to write in our readers world. That’s all very well, but I don’t think I have any readers in alt-history late 1400s Eastern Europe. I’m damn sure I don’t have any in my other universes with the possible exception of the con vampire ‘verse and only because that one leaks like a busted sieve. I don’t know about you, but I happen to enjoy observing people and stuff so long as I’m in a sufficiently clear space. I don’t need to spend a day taking notes on the exact consistency of the cement tiles in location X when I’m going writing about someone whose only concern is that her shoes don’t get dirty.
Thing four: Spend a day with the lyrics of your favorite songs. By this our precious snowflake means to take a verse of said song and attach a honking great splat of details from your current circumstances (in excruciating detail, of course) to the lyrics, then analyze the results to see what kind of weird new meanings arise. The goal is to learn subtext.
Now aside from the unfortunate little fact that subtext is going to be different for everyone because of their history, if you haven’t figured out as a writer that you can set up a whole cascade of subconscious cues with the right words or the right little details, this exercise ain’t going to help you. It might be worth doing for drunken party games, but that’s about as far as I’d take it.
Thing five: Spend a day writing and rewriting a single scene. Apparently to teach hard work.
Darling, I know what hard work looks like. This isn’t it. This is nothing more than wankery pretending to be hard work. If a scene works, it works and it doesn’t need to be taken apart, much less rewritten five different ways to show up how a different perspective can make it totally different. That’s newbie stuff. As the whole “even more honestly” thing? Not everyone lies to themselves the way you do. But then, not everyone writes about themselves, either. I sure as hell don’t.
Thing six: Spend a day on research. Okay, this might look like a valid idea, until you look at what Ye Almighty Editor actually means by it. For starters, she doesn’t actually know what research is. For seconds it’s not going to teach deeper understanding the way she thinks it will. Oh, no… her exercise will generate a facile overview of a few topics, and some shallow essays of the sort I routinely pulled from unlikely portions of my anatomy all the way through high school and three degrees. Three and a half, actually, but who’s counting?
Thing seven: Spend a day watching children. Now aside from the fact that for some of us this is a highly refined form of torture, the reason for this exercise is allegedly to teach compassion for all your characters. That sproinging sound you heard was my WTF-per-minute-ometer finally giving up under the strain and blasting itself into spare parts.
To start with, I don’t need compassion for all of my characters. The fellow behind the bar who sells my main character some ale? He’s a bit player. I don’t need to know anything more about him than that he’s there doing his job. Same for the third enemy soldier from the left whose sole purpose in the book is to die horribly in a failed attack. Of course, I’m writing stories, not self-indulgent navel gazing literature, so I’m probably not the proper audience for this.
Thing eight: Spend a day crying. To learn – wait for it – courage. Lady, I live with depression. I have spent entire weeks crying. I do not need to do more of it to learn to be courageous. Courage is what gets me out of bed every damn morning and takes me to work every damn day. That and being a responsible adult, which is something I suspect our magnificent editor has not experienced. Or at least, not experienced much of.
Thing nine: Spend a day laughing at things only you think are funny. To learn to accept your uniqueness.
Honestly, this woman has no idea she has no idea. If you can’t accept that you’re a unique person with value no matter how good or bad you are, this exercise in futility ain’t going to change a thing. About the only good it will do is the purely physical good that comes from laughing, and you can get that by telling dirty jokes any time you please.
Thing ten: Spend a day being grateful. Okay. Gratitude for the good things in your life is not a bad thing. The kind of bullshit Pollyannaish nonsense this woman talks about as gratitude is just literary onanism – but then, to judge by the entire list, the dear lady’s entire career is editing various examples of literary onanism, and worse, loving them.
So, if you feel inclined to actually do any of these, don’t blame me when they don’t do you any bloody good whatsoever, and don’t come whining to me about it. You’re all adults, you’re all capable of taking yourselves to hell or heaven by any means you choose.
And that is something this person clearly does not understand.