Monday, April 22, 2013

No One Knows Nothing

There's a saying attributed to Socrates at the end of Plato's Republic. The actual quote can be translated as:

As for me, all I know is that I know nothing, for when I don't know what justice is, I'll hardly know whether it is a kind of virtue or not, or whether a person who has it is happy or unhappy.
On the other hand, "Nobody knows anything," has been attributed to Hollywood screenwriter William Goldman.

Both of these can be considered the source of this post's title.

The scary part is that I'm coming to the realization (finally) that one certain fact is true: no one on this planet has a clue. I don't mean all the crap last week with the Boston Marathon bombing, the ricin letters or the fertilizer plant explosion. In each of those cases, someone knew exactly what he/she was doing and didn't give a flying fuck who got hurt.

I'm referring to the so-called experts in writing. Writers, publishers, agents, editors. None of them know anything. Today, I'm picking on the writers.

I should consider myself fortunate. I've had people who I've considered brilliant help me in my writing career. Or tried to help me.

But the longer I've known these people, the more I realize they are repeating the same mantra: Do as I do and you will be as successful as I.

Unfortunately, the other side of that coin is: If you don't as I do, I will spit my god's wrath all over your face and shun you.

Yes, I could write romantic comedies until the end of time, but that not what I want to write. Yes, I could outline and organize and stick post-its all over my office walls, but I'd rather write by the seat of my pants. Yes, I could send in queries for the next twenty years, but that's not the type of validation I want.

And then reality smacks me in the head with an iron skillet. I do want validation. From my peers.

Except fellow writers don't consider me a peer because I don't follow their proscribed rules. Even the ones who claim they do not have rules HAVE RULES. Theirs just aren't the same as the majority's.

The realization that the writers who have tons more experience than me only understand their little corner of the universe is fucking depressing. It's like the moment you realize your parents aren't gods and they're human. It turns your world upside down.

Some people can't deal with that realization and retreat into old patterns. Some people avoid it and distance themselves from the situation. Some people, not a lot but a few, can gracefully make the transition.

Right now, I'm not sure in which category I'm going to end up.


  1. No clue what you're specifically responding to, but I've been pondering some similar issues. So, some thoughts that might be in the same general ZIP code.

    One, I've noticed that some folks who spend a lot of time in teacher mode tend to see certain things as Problems, because they talk to a lot of writers who have problems, and who do these things. So frex., if you talk to a lot of writers who go insane whenever they get a review -- wanting to write cookie-cutter copies of books that get good reviews, or wanting to never-ever write anything like a book that gets bad reviews, or if it's an indie-pubbed book, wanting to go in and make changes every time someone criticizes this or that -- then it's easy to get into a rut where you tell them all not to read their reviews, ever. And it's easy to start to think that no writer should ever read their reviews, whether they're the flail/panic sort or not. It becomes a Rule, writ in marble by the fiery finger of God, "Thou shalt not ever read thy reviews." When in actuality, there are plenty of writers who do NOT go all flail/panic when they read a review, good or bad. For them, reading reviews isn't a problem. But people who don't have a problem don't talk to a teacher-person and ask, "What should I do here?"

    The trick here is to filter what a teacher says based on where your actual problems are, and ignore what they say about situations which are not problematic to you.

    Another thought is that it's easy for folks to divide up into two sides, and argue as though there are two and only two sides. This makes it kind of tough for someone who's on a third side, or who's in the middle.

    Frex., I describe myself as a pantser, but in fact I do sometimes take some notes along the way, particularly if I'm writing something long. I've even been known to come up with an idea for a scene toward the end of a book, and jot those down so I don't forget the idea. I'm not married to it, and if something takes a sharp left then I can trash the earlier idea that no longer fits. But I do occasionally have plot/story notes in my notes file.

    And if a story idea comes to me and I don't want to start working on it right away, I'll jot it down in my ideas file. Usually it's just a few lines, but I have "notes" that are more than a page long, here and there. There are times when it's probably the equivalent of several pages of plot outline, if I put it into outline format, rather than just banging away a huge block or two of text. So I'm a pantster, but occasionally I do non-pantsish things. No one seems to care right now, but there've been times in the past when the pantser-vs-outliner wars were fairly heated, and being only mostly a pantser was sort of like being a bisexual with gay leanings trying to fit in with a group of gays and lesbians. It's very often not at all pretty, and over something that there's really no reason to fight over, except that there are always people who weld themselves to one extreme or the other, and preach it like gospel. :/

    I learned a while back, in workshops, to take the input that was useful and ignore the rest. I'm doing the same now with writers who might have a lot to teach me, but also some ideas or rules that don't work for me or don't apply to me or my habits or my genre or whatever. [shrug] That's the only way I can see to deal, without putting myself in a situation where my doctor decides to increase the dosage on my blood pressure meds. :P


  2. Angie, sorry if my rambling made no sense. I was free-associating to work out my own issues.

    The actual situation--

    Last week, two writers gave me opposite pieces of advice. Both have over two decades of professional experience and awards out the wazoo. Usually, I'd follow your prescription to use what I can and discard the rest. But both writers are quite vehement that their way is the only way and are quite offended I would even consider the other person's method as valid.

    If these were any two other people on the planet, I would have told them both to fuck off. Instead, I realized I was trying to pacify them by several methods (including lying), the same behavior I used as a child when I was caught between my parents' fights.

    Which means my emotional turmoil is 99% my problem for (1) wanting these two writers to be something they are not and (b) being pissed at myself for sliping back into bad habits I thought I'd dealt with years ago.

    1% is still their fault for being anal-retentive assholes.

  3. Ahh. Yeah, it's eyerolly-annoying when you're just reading someone's blog, but when it's people you know and they expect feedback on their feedback, that can get awkward.

    It reminds me of how Miss Manners says that it's improper to ever ask someone you've given a gift to how they've enjoyed it, or whether they use it regularly, or whatever. Because if they hate it, they have to either say, "Umm, we gave it to Goodwill," or lie to you about it. The comic scenes in some old movies where people are dashing around yanking ugly things out of storage and scattering them around the house right before the in-laws arrive? That sort of thing.

    It's sort of like that. In a way, advice and verbal help is a gift, and it's rude to ask someone how it worked out, because they might have to choose between lying and offending you. Best to offer your advice and then politely not notice if it ends up in the trash.


  4. I don't like how RWA, and maybe they don't do this anymore but I don't like how they didn't consider someone a certain writer, if they weren't traditionally published.

    Monkey balls, that's just dumb.

  5. Whisk -- last time I was paying attention, and for quite a while before that, not only were non-traditionally published writers considered second class citizens, but also people who wrote GLBT romances. They now have "local" chapters online for both e-published writers and for GLBT romance writers, but it's easy to throw a sop to the peasants. When an e-primary book, or an M/M (or F/F, or M/M/F, or trans) romance wins one of their RITAs, then I'll figure they've really changed their tune. Until then, they're just collecting dues money from people they don't respect and refuse to honor. They won't get any from me. :/


  6. The last couple of years, RWA has flip-flopped on a lot of issues depending on who was sitting in the president's chair. Overall, most of the writer organizations have tucked themselves into trad publishing's pocket like agents have.

    I differ with Angie in that RWA has great craft classes, and I think it's worth the money to take advantage of them compared to how expensive and how worthless some other creative writing courses are.

    But like Angie said above, if someone asks my opinion, I give it to them. If it doesn't work for them, then so be it. *shrug*

  7. Suzan -- I've heard from a lot of people that the local RWA chapters are awesome and totally worth joining, that they have a lot of good classes, etc. I just can't overlook the larger institution's biases, which I consider pretty unforgiveable. Giving them money seems, to me, like I'm endorsing those biases.

    I've heard from a lot of people, usually during whatever the latest RWA kerfuffle might be, saying that they don't like National either, but they stay for their local chapter. And I've heard people say that their whole chapter would love to leave RWA, but that the rules say that if a chapter detaches from the larger organization, their group treasury has to be turned over to National before they go, so....

    If it were me, I'd throw a huge conference or workshop or something, blow through all the money, then thumb my nose at National and reorganize the chapter into an independent group. I can be a vindictive bitch, though, so that's just me. [cough]