Daily Archives: January 21, 2010

Writing: Anyone Can Write

Yes, anyone can write, just as anyone can paint or dance or sing. Whether they do it well or not is another story. Some people are born with a certain talent, an ability that is more natural to them than to others. But even they must practice and hone their art or skills. People without that inborn talent have to work harder but it doesn’t mean they are inferior to those with the inherent skills. And then again, much is subjective. A person being a great painter may only be because that style has become popular and taken on a life of its own. The painter may know nothing of color, hue and shade but either captured the eye and heart of the public or has been built up as the next best thing to sliced bread. Take Twiggy, the supermodel of the sixties. She was a skinny rail of a kid but the fashion world hyped her until anorexia was the new style for models and fashion.

But back to writing. The advent of computers made it possible for everyone to write. It is far faster than a typewriter and even moreso than pen and paper. Corrections are almost instantaneous. Then along came the worldwide web on top of computers and suddenly we could send anything anywhere. The advent of blogs in recent years is an example of how far reaching our thoughts can be…if anyone reads them.

Which means, just because you can hit the keypad and form words does not mean you know how to write. Writing, like any other skill, takes practice and skill. It takes work.

There are many magazines that pay anywhere from high professional levels to very little, to nothing at all. The payment of the latter is often only exposure and maybe a free copy of said magazine (unless it’s electronic; then you get to bookmark it). I don’t at this point run my own magazine but I do not believe in paying authors nothing and would never do a magazine unless I could pay even a pittance. But it is up for each person to choose, and some authors are so hungry to see their works  in print that they do not care if they’re paid. So be it.

Now the process of submission and acceptance is different for various magazines. Most ask for contact details and choose your story based on merit. However, most of us know that if you are a “name,” someone who has published a fair amount, you are more likely to sell your story than the lesser names. This doesn’t necessarily mean the story is better, and I have found often that a name can write a mediocre tale and sell it whereas we little people must write a stellar story to get past the barrier. And that barrier? Names sell magazines, and publishers will go for a name over a great story most of the time. Simple economics.

Contests and a few magazines or anthologies run a bit differently. They will ask that the stories be submitted anonymously and the story/poem is judged on merit. Some big name authors may not like this because they have to try harder against relative unknowns. But overall a big name writer is famous for a reason and their writing will often rise to the top no matter what.  Writers of a certain notoriety don’t enter contests because they’ve already made their name and make more money than a mere contest could give. Such awards/prizes like the Giller are different because the work  by others.

So I found it interesting that British author Susan Hill (who I have never read so can’t speak to her works) was furious at being asked to submit a work anonymously to a Fringe Festival. Her rant is here: amateurs aren’t as good.

She feels that writing has been democratized and made egalitarian so talent doesn’t matter. Sure, a writer’s fame or ability should be acknowledged and it is, through sales. “But,” Susan feels, “in the mad world of those with well-meaning but lunatic desires for egalitarianism in absolutely everything my fifty years writing 43 books, learning my trade and re-learning it, practising my craft, hoping to improve, reading the best to learn from them,  putting out words in a careful order every day of my life, working with the talent I was given by God – none of that matters a jot.”

I actually wonder what the context of the Fringe Festival venue was meant to impart. I can see how she, as a professional, might refuse if there is no pay but she doesn’t say whether it’s to give a sample of writers great and small, or whatever. And wow, the talent god gave her. I guess we who god did not favor should just butt out and sit back to watch the god-given.

Although she has a valid point about professionals being paid and recognized, I wonder truly at her outrage. Is it ego getting in the way? As I’ve said, the proof of the pudding will show in the pieces. (Who is that B&W picture of anyway? Surely not Susan Hill but maybe one of the dead white writing heroes of yesteryear?) But she says you can’t get a column if a reader doesn’t choose you and the internet is as great a leveler as a publisher or an editor. So why the fury?

She talks about marginalized writers and says, “It matters because some people do some things better than others do – those who have learned and been trained, as well as who have talent.” But she forgets one very important point. We all started at ground zero, placing our first words on paper (computer screen). We are not released fully talented, like Athena bursting forth fully formed from Zeus’s head.

Amateurs become professionals and bad writers become good writers. Is Susan Hill afraid of the competition from the up and comings, worried that she’ll be ousted from the nest of her contemporary cronies? Even if she’s not a great writer, I doubt she needs to worry with 43 novels under her belt. She should  set about mentoring a few of these unknowns if she’s not afraid and stop being furious about a Fringe Festival play/event. It’s not like she was printed anonymously in a magazine.

I can also say that having been a Nemonymous author http://weirdmonger.blog-city.com/baffles_and_fables.htm, an anthology where the stories were printed without the author names attributed to the story but listed at the back, that I didn’t feel any slight at all. I had no fury that those better or worse than me were getting more due. It is what it is and the cream will rise to the top.

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