I AM around, actually, for anyone who’s reading this and wondering (is anyone wondering, I wonder? Hm.) I’ve just been busy. School started up, a toddler is always a time-sink, Batman: Arkham Asylum came out (and is stunning) and somewhere in there, I’m trying to write. Writing is losing out right now, and that doesn’t please me. I think I might wind up taking a strict sabbatical from the internet for a couple of weeks, to clear my head out and see if I can’t get a bunch of writing done.
It is humid as hell tonight.
Anyway, I came across a couple of fascinating writing-advice quotes from Dan Simmons (who writes amazing books, including Drood, which has to be one of the most incredible books I’ve ever read). I thought I’d share them.
Any advice for writers?
Dr Johnson gave the best advice for writers (and readers) more than two centuries ago – “Clear your mind of cant.” Cant consists of pious platitudes (or their cynical counterparts), the technical jargon of a group, the insider prattle of a cult, and the consensus-babble of any age. Cant is political correctness and the formulaic crap churned out by Hollywood and bestsellers. Cant is Christian fiction and feminist fiction and Toni Morrison fiction and Marxist fiction and any other -ist fiction. Ninety-nine percent of everything we read and hear is cant and so is most of the junk turned out by beginning writers. Clear your mind of cant.
And here’s another. I REALLY like this one. I want to print it out and put it on the wall. I may well do.
You once stated that, “All good writers are serious readers.” How important is it for a young writer to have a good grounding in classic literature? When reading genre fiction, should young writers read outside the genre in which they wish to write?
Anyone who spends his or her life reading inside just one genre is an idiot. (Imagine a baby who will eat only strained carrots and who grows up to be an adult, still eating strained carrots. Very, very sad.) The biggest problem I find with young would-be writers is the limited scope of their education and ambition. John Gardner, whose On Becoming a Novelist is required reading for anyone who dreams of being a writer, points out that anyone who wants to write fiction for publishing is presuming to join a dialogue of ideas that goes back millennia and that to be ignorant of what has come before in that dialogue is self-defeating arrogance. These same wannabe-writers doom themselves by looking at the lowest common denominator of writing in the genre they’ve staked out and proclaiming — “I can write better than that!” Well, so what? Better than crap is still crap in all too many cases. Unask the question, as the Zen teacher would say. The question is not “Who can you write as well as?” but “Who is the best writer you could never hope to equal?” That’s the writer you need to aspire to being, to hope to compete with even though you know that hope is doomed to failure. (Hemingway’s notebooks and letters are filled with boxing metaphors — “Today I took on Tolstoy and went three rounds with him!”) No one will ever be a great writer by thinking that he can someday write as well as, say, Stephen King or Dan Simmons.
What is your advice to aspiring writers?
My advice to aspiring writers? — “Give up! Turn back! It’s hopeless!”
Now that’s my advice to aspiring writers, since it doesn’t take any discipline or effort or guts to aspire to something. To hell with aspirants. Let the poseurs quit aspiring and creep back to their jobs at Blockbuster. To those writers out there who may not be published yet, the advice is so simple that it may be useless — keep your sights high, your ambitions in line with your discipline, and never accept the quality of what you’re producing now as the final word. It has to be better. Even after you’re published, it has to be better. Keep improving or get out of the way of those writers who hear the music and who are willing to pay a lifetime of dues to get where they want to be.
Terrific stuff. I’m reading Ilium by him right now, along with all the other things I’m reading. Or at least, I was reading Ilium until various anthropological texts took my attention. Some of them are for school, a couple of them are for pleasure. (I like that I’m reading a book which is, elsewhere, the textbook for a class that I can’t actually get into. I’m reading that one for pleasure, and feeling like a smarty-pants. Actually, I’m just enjoying it). (It is A Coming of Age in Second Life, if you’re wondering.) (Out of parenthesis now.)
And now, I’m going to go to bed and sweat. It’ll be as fun as it sounds.
Good night, world.