It’s always interesting to me to observe how certain topics reach critical mass. In this particular case, I’m just glad everybody’s talkin’. At last. “About an issue,” industry journalist Porter Anderson says in a late December article he titled Keeping Watch Over Our Schlock, “a lot of us hesitate to address head-on.”
He’s referring to the quality of the writing we’re seeing coming out of (ahem) “digitally enabled content abundance.” And he’s reacting in solidarity to this blistering indictment by writer Baldur Bjarnason:
One of the consequences of anybody being able to publish is that everybody can publish … The biggest beneficiaries of open, free, and equitable access to publishing tools will never be skilled writers, readers with taste, or anybody who sells a quality good, but the purveyors of mass-manufactured schlock and buyers who either don’t mind it, or can’t tell the difference.
The very same week, literary agent Chip MacGregor, coming at it from a different angle, said something similar:
The majority of stuff I see from newer authors isn’t turned down because the writer is new; it’s turned down because the writing isn’t all that great. … Don’t assume you’re a genius just because your mom (or spouse, or best friend, or priest) told you so. Get some professional opinions, listen to others, and become a better writer.
That’s pretty plain, don’t you think?
I’ve been writing about this topic for two years now (this was my first, followed by this post, this one, this too, then this, this, this, this, and that one). So I feel like saying Oh, you’re just now noticing this? when best-selling author James Scott Bell (love him), in a post he calls Publishing and Marketing Your Crap, says:
So “quality” (an amorphous thing like obscenity, which one Supreme Court justice defined as “I know it when I see it”) is definitely something the indie writer ought to pursue if he or she really wants to increase the odds of making real bank at this game. It’s not just about numbers. My “formula” is quality + production + time. How does one add “quality” to the writing? Study the freaking craft.
Notice he includes time in his formula. There are no shortcuts, kids. Remember the 10,000-Hour Rule? Bjarnason says, “It’s a slow-going task, full of hard work and few rewards, but it’s the only sustainable tactic in a market that is increasingly dominated by randomness.”
The very same week, Penelope Trunk wrote about “rules about creativity that are gaining traction.” And she came to the same conclusion:
So the truth is that the way to be known for your creativity is to work really hard at being creative. That’s the bad news. Because everything worth aiming for is hard work …
Well, yes. Exactly.
I had an interesting conversation with the Boy when he was home over the holiday about what it takes to be a professional in one’s field. He is a working musician, a performer and a music educator. It looks like a great gig from the outside—his students think he’s living the high life. They tell him they want his job. He says,* “I tell them what they have to do to get there—but they’re not interested.” They’re not interested in stories about the long hours in the practice room; that’s no fun. They’d rather spend Christmas with friends and family, but the Boy had three performances in the twenty-four hours between noon on Christmas Eve and noon on Christmas Day. Did someone say something about hard work?
Again, it fascinates me that all of this is swirling up on the interwebs, but these are worrisome times and writers know the catharsis that can be achieved by working things out on a keyboard. Me, I hew to something a good boss (you again, Wayne-O) told me long ago: just do good work.
Just do good work.
* He also blogs—and about this subject too.
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