I’m posting this as a separate post.
Here in my spheres of the Internet, it’s funny how everyone shares this idea that WRITING = fantasy and science fiction, that WRITERS are people who get loads of money to publish their space elf stories. I think we all found each other here and now because we share these roots of being The Bookish Children, who aspired to be Tolkien or Adams when we grew up, and I think that’s great, and I’m so glad we share all this.
It’s weird, though, how our Writing About Writing then tends to be about fiction. And fiction is such a strange market, a really weird beast. I think that a lot of this post applies to fiction writers in a particularly toxic and demoralizing way but it’s also very true in nonfiction writing.
As a kid you have all of these… IDEAS about nonfiction writing. That your textbooks and news stories and magazines and adventures and dictionaries and everything are prepared lovingly and truthfully by experts. Edited and approved by some great authority. It isn’t Authors or Writers who create this stuff; you don’t want to grow up to be them; they are oracles, not celebrities. There is still this perception that nonfiction is handed down benevolently, like stone tablets from God.
And the truth of it is that nonfiction is handed down by whoever met the deadline first. These were generally not The Bookish Children whose Daydreams Finally Took Fruitful Wing. These were the ones who believed Terry Pratchett when he said “If you trust in yourself…and believe in your dreams…and follow your star…you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.”
The truth is, natural talent attracts a certain magician’s-flair attention, but that the Content Machine is starving, and it gobbles up sparkly cupcakes just as fast as it gobbles up plain bread. The news cycle turns over. Nobody’s reading it carefully, thinking of the children, setting words to flake and texture against each other just so. They’re thinking of Wednesday. They’re afraid they’re about to be found out as Mediocre, and if they miss another deadline they will get the Raised Eyebrow.
Talent is a pony you can ride for 3000 words, but when your job is 10,000 words a week then you need a fuckin trained warhorse that puts its head down and carries you stolidly through a battlefield of distractions and doesn’t listen when you try to steer it otherwise.
So you get this dichotomy in Writing about Writing, where in Fiction Writing you’re encouraged to build an elaborate fairy grotto and arrange the correct pencils in pretty Mason jars to attract the attentions of a Muse, and then do a bit of performance art where you try to market yourself while also being very humble and modest - it’s not very evidence-based, is it?
And in Nonfiction it’s just THROW WORDS AT THE PAGE UNTIL THEY STICK! THROW WORDS AT THE WALL - THROW WORDS AT YOUR MOTHER. THROW YOUR MOTHER AT THE WALL. FUCK FUCK BALLS THEY’RE ALL SLIDING OFF!! FUCK HAND ME THAT CONCLUSION WE’LL NAIL IT INTO PLACE AND PAINT OVER IT AND IT’LL KIND OF… CRUST OVER. THIS IS CRAP, IT’S THE WORST THING I’VE EVER MADE, SEND THE FUCKER OUT THERE YES GOOD DONE.
And the Nonfiction gets written, every damn day, thousands of words, filling up the Internet, bringing the news, coming through the radio, teaching the children, adorning the museums, educating the people, telling the truth, selling the product - it gets out there. But don’t think it isn’t creative, powerful, coming from some essential source - its pedigree is just as potent as fiction’s. This post may be terrible, but it has warhorses and cupcakes and all sorts of strange and alarming imagery. Nonfiction isn’t better or worse than fiction, it’s just marketed and consumed differently.
And most of nonfiction writing isn’t good. Most of it is workhorse, mediocre, bringing the truth to your mouth - some of it’s terrible. This certainly is.
And you didn’t notice.* You noticed it was there.
Maybe try writing fiction like you’re writing nonfiction. Maybe it will help. Maybe don’t wait for permission, or the right feeling, or your name to be called, or the pony to be in the right mood. Write because I gave you permission, if you want it.
* Well, presumably you did notice, but you still got to that sentence. Thus it was successful in its purpose; thus, because it was successful, it was good. It didn’t require that you like it. This is how people sell you things, and how genetic material gets passed on. But hopefully I didn’t get you pregnant. Oh dear. Please take appropriate protective measures.