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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Joanna Russ: "Dirty Wordies, or, The Fiendish Thingie"

A big thank you to the blog future_of_feminism for posting this speech by the late, great Joanna Russ: 
"Dirty Wordies, or, The Fiendish Thingie" (1969)

There are so many quotable lines in this speech about writing and "taboo" words. Here are but a few:
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"There is a fashionable idea around today -- maybe I should not call it an idea, for I hardly think it attains to the complexity of real thinking -- there is this confused notion, then, that anger is somehow sacred, rage is holy, and you are justified in doing anything you please as long as you are angry enough -- and angry at the right targets, that is, at the currently fashionable targets. 
I do not agree. Being shocked is not in itself a good thing for people; on the contrary, it is a distinctly unpleasant experience, and the writer who shocks you on the grounds that it's good for people to be shocked is like the writer who hits you over the head with a brick on the grounds that it's good for people to be hit on the head now and then, and anyhow, he enjoys it." 

"One of the most annoying things in the world is the way dirty words can distract people from anything else -- when a reader gets shocked at a dirty wordie, he stops paying attention to the plot, to the characters, to the mood, to the theme, to everything. 
The dirty word is a little bomb that explodes and scatters the work of art in all directions."

"The whole effort of literary art is to make things speakable. Nothing should be unspeakable or unnameable. That's what language is for -- to name things."
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Read the rest. I implore you.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Heinlein's Rules Of Writing, Deconstructed

 You may have heard of Heinlein's Rules, coined by Robert A. Heinlein:

1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you start.
3. You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.
4. You must put it on the market.
5. You must keep it on the market until sold.

Now, the blogger at Scrivener's Error (recommended as a beacon of sanity in a crazy world) picks apart these rules -- and I'd like to quote his/her conclusions:
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The key assumption that Heinlein makes — and it alters the meaning of each of the five rules, but these two [Rules 3 and 5] more than most — is that "You, as a writer, must already have a commercially valued, consistent brand and identity before you can effectively apply the following rules."

That is, the rules work only for writers whose shopping lists scribbled on napkins have commercial value due to their authorship.

That's not to say that there's no value at all in these rules, even for beginning writers; only that they require application of some artistic sense and literary and commercial analysis.

At some point, when too many readers are expressing the same sort of problem with your manuscript, it needs to be rewritten. At some point, it makes no commercial sense to continue circulating a manuscript that is not getting licensure offers.

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(Read the rest)

Valid points, all. In fact, lots of very successful writers are not writing perfect books -- but they are doing enough things "right" to be readable and accessible to a wider audience.

How do you know when your writing is "good enough"? Tricky question, that one. I can only suggest the trite cliches "learn from your mistakes" and "practice makes perfect" -- trite, but true.

It also helps to have a clear, original vision. "Vision" is the theme that drives your writing. Writing itself may be a search to define and sharpen your personal vision. Is there a formula?

Maybe a little something like this:

Author's Vision + formal writing skill + Thorough Work + Luck = Success


Note that the above formula doesn't say when your work will be successful. Do you have lots of patience? Not all writers do, but most successful ones have lots of it -- and boy, does it help:

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After Stephen King had Carrie rejected by 30 different publishers he dumped pig's blood all over the publishers. No, I'm just kidding. Stephen King did throw Carrie in the trash though. Fortunately, his wife took it out of the trash and convinced King to try again.
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A patient spouse is also a good thing for a writer to have...