I’ve been showing mine for years. (And as the little Protestant boy said after trying this with his little Catholic girl neighbor, ‘I hadn’t really understood the difference between Catholics and Protestants before.’)
I am NOT talking about human private parts (or even corporals’ parts.)
I am, in a sort of sideways fashion talking about one of the core pieces of advice given to young writers.
Show. Don’t tell.
Actually, I think this a fairly good maxim for life. It’s certainly a good maxim for writing. Yes, there are times and places for telling. I’ve written about them here on MGC. Generally, however, like many of those old beliefs that ‘modernizers’ are always in a hurry to sweep away, there’s a kernel of good sense, and actually, the alternatives are exceptions. It’s something I try to incorporate into my writing about writing, which frequently makes my soft head hurt.
In this case I’m talking about all those folk who have been telling us ‘we’re doing it wrong’. You know precisely the sort of individuals I’m talking about. They’ll tell me I’m an evil cruel man for killing a chicken or a wallaby… but they have never done it. They’ve never been faced with a choice of that, or no food (let alone meat). They buy a product in the supermarket… which magically makes it appear in the freezer. They’ll tell you that you did your book all wrong and that it is terrible and full of typos… but they haven’t written one. Or if they have, they didn’t have to survive the mill of the slush-pile as I did (or self-pub), but thanks to their ‘disadvantages’ and connections had a publisher pay an editor to help, and proof reader to clear some of those typos. They’ll tell you that the puppies efforts are dragging sf back in time (yes, JUST in time), yet they’ve done nothing to alter the catastrophic plunge of sf/fantasy sales from traditional publishers. If you force them to confront the figures showing they’ve been part of excluding anyone to the right of Lenin from traditional publishing and the various awards (which, it seems extremely likely, downgraded the sale-value of those awards, and the popularity of the genre…) they’ll tell you there might be a problem (but of course nothing like as bad as you make it out to be) and we, the puppies just did it wrong.
I’m certainly not saying ‘nothing could ever be done better’. If I was, I’d give up and wait to die instead of believing it worth raging against the dying of the light. Everything can always be done better. I was reading a book by one of my favorite authors, and seeing plot holes and vast missed opportunities yesterday. But please, please, don’t tell me how to do it better.
I looked at those ideas, those plot holes, and, while I might never reach that level of general story-telling skill, I WILL NOT leave those holes, those implausible co-incidences and I will explore some of the ideas, bigger, different…
This is what I do. Whether it is acting on my principles, helping other writers, doing my bit in places where I think it needs doing. Getting out and proving my point in actions… This is what I have done all my life, sometimes failing and trying again and again. Sometimes with mediocre success – but it’s got our family on a farm on a remote beautiful island (and no, this isn’t an easy thing to do. Try it.) making a living by writing, which oddly, is more or less what I set out to do. I could still do better. I’m working on it.
We’ve had a veritable rash of puppy-kickers in the last while. Larry, in his inimitable style took the last one apart here. The puppy-kicking luvvies were outraged that he didn’t know who the author of this piece was. The honest truth is I’d never heard of him either. He’s following a trend of far left-wing luvvies who have written puppy-kicking pieces in the Grauniad (a newspaper with rapidly dropping circulation)… he’s an academic, who has won all sorts of ‘literatchewer’ prizes, had every possible support and promotion from the publishing and literary establishment… NK Jemisin, Damien Walter – they all TOLD us how evil we are.
Why don’t they SHOW us?
I know. They haven’t even been outstanding successes with the entire weight of the Traditional publishing establishment and all its client compliant media and sycophants – because we’re ‘repressing’ them! But here’s the challenge:
Look, it is dead ‘easy’. They can get some of their friends to play along too. They say that women and minorities are discriminated against? That Ancillary Justice was a really, really brilliant read by a brilliant writer? That we’re just nasty -ists to think most of their work crap?
Show us we’re wrong. Don’t tell us. SHOW US.
Pick a pseudonym. Amazon KDP is open to anyone. Do it all yourself – just as so many successful… and unsuccessful writers have done. Keep it a deadly secret from everyone (and be ready to prove you did this). Make it a pseudonym that doesn’t reflect those ‘disadvantages’ you tell us are holding those Hugo winners back. And because it’s skill and sheer raw talent that you’re proving… don’t write message fiction. Make your characters white as folk from John Scalzi’s zipcode, and straight too and conservative. I mean, even a mediocrely competent hack like myself can put himself in someone else’s shoes well enough to write them convincingly. To geniuses who have had to struggle under all those disadvantages, this will be a piece of cake. Don’t use the cliques and networks and promotion on Gawker media that gave you a free ride, that aren’t available to anyone else. Just let that brilliance carry you by word of mouth.
It worked for Larry Correia
It didn’t work for JK Rowling.
Show us. We’re more likely to believe you then. It worked for Alice B Sheldon.
If you can’t… well, maybe those academics teaching creative writing and English should give up telling us what to do, and work instead on teaching their students that valuable and essential skill that young Biologists learn in their first week — How to say: “Do you want fries with that?” like you really mean it.
Talking of changes… I watch the world from my island, because like it or not I am part of that world.
Times are changing. There are shifts in the zeitgeist that were simply unimaginable a few years ago. That’s true in socio-politics as much as writing, and the two do reflect on each other. We are, to my eye, moving in a direction that worries me, one which I believe leads towards Nationalist Socialism (and as a migrant that is very unpleasant.) It’s a symptom of toughening times, and while our establishment ‘friends’ in traditional publishing may long for the authoritarianism a socialist command economy… a glance at history tells me it’s always those away from the center of the herd that get looted and killed first. The ‘special’ ones, the ones the common folk thought were doing better or just different. That’s who TradPub have backed and favored in a time that backed and favored them. They’re the darlings of the puppy-kickers, who complain that we did not favor them sufficiently.
Yet… already the unthinkable ten years ago, and implausible five years ago things are happening in Australia, with migrants… and the children of migrants as the thin edge of that change. Europe and America seem to reflect the same situation. It will spread to anyone who is different. And those TradPubs… they’ll either follow or get crushed.
Take my advice, writers, puppy-kickers, and anyone else who doesn’t do a pretty good job of passing for the middle of the herd. Go Indy, build your own audience, and don’t make yourself a target.
Gee, what a cheerful Monday post. Read Brad’s instead.
We will get into space. People will die. People will take risks. It will be tough. There will the puppy-kickers equivalent whining away and, strangely, not doing anything.
But we can and will.
We’ll show them.
In the meanwhile, get out there and write it.