You know what really grinds my gears? (© Family Guy)
Unpublished young writers being like, “Oh, you just don’t understand my work.”
AM I RIGHT OR AM I RIGHT?
Listen, Shakespeare, if we don’t understand your work, the problem is probably with your work. I consider it the height of pretension and general disgustingness when twenty-somethings get all aloof and superior with regards to their ART. What’s that? You’re the next Keats/Joyce? Awesome, in 100 years—when your poor old misunderstood over-critiqued underpaid body is rotting in the grave—you can consider yourself Officially Vindicated. Put that on a bumper sticker and stick it to your cryonically-frozen coffin-that-doubles-as-a-spaceship! (It’s 2110, they have those things.) But going by sheer numbers, chances are you’re NOT the next Keats/Joyce, and right now you look like an idiot.
I work in the publishing industry. (Also, I majored in creative writing.) I am a stupid twenty-something, so I don’t have that much street cred, but a year of publishing experience has given me a tiny bit. I have seen first hand the sheer number of people who are deluded by the glamour of the craft, people who think that snow “covers the hills like frosting,” people who think that the bohemian poverty of being young and white in New York is still a fresh and appealing subject, people who—I’m sorry, I know karma’s gonna get me for this one—people who think they’re writers when they’re just not. And believe you me, I struggle every day to maintain a degree of distance and self-consciousness about my writing (and myself in general). I really don’t want to come across as looking stupid. I’d rather stop writing than be the kind of author that I read every day. I’M SORRY!
One of the most infuriating/ack writing moments I’ve experienced was during the workshop of this guy’s crazy, look-at-my-vocab, plot-is-beneath-me, abstractions, adjectives, and general jerking-off-filled story, where most of the class was like, “Um, I don’t get this.” (Totally valid response, in my book.) The author’s friend decided to stick up for him, and responded, “Listen. I’ve read M’s writing before, and you can’t really look for a meaning. You just have to kind of let the words wash over you.”
ACK. Yes I damn well can look for a meaning! I’m the reader, I hold the cards right now! Once you’ve put your story out there, you don’t get to go around peering over people’s shoulders and saying, “Oh, did you notice how I used that comma to convey the main character’s sense of imminent apocalypse?” and “This is the part where the five lemons on the table represent the five ex-lovers of Bill Clinton, who was in office at the time, though I don’t mention that explicitly in the story.” If you’re that much of a control freak—and believe me, I am—go out and have a drink, baby! Relax! AND STEP AWAY FROM THE LITERATE MASSES. Note: have you recently written a creative thesis? This is the absolute worst. You don’t get to bitch about how people don’t get it once you’ve turned that baby in. You’re the one that doesn’t get it. You’re over. Step back. Trust your work enough to let it seep into our consciousness, and see if it leaves a stain.
Trust me, I’m tempted to pull out the people-are-so-ignorant-sniff-sniff card ALL THE TIME, and I know, I know, people are idiots and it’s frustrating being a misunderstood genius in a world of those who cannot spell “children.” I SUCK TOO, DON’T WORRY! Most people NEVER understand my stories the way I, you know, intended them to be understood. Oh, the humanity! However, a) I’m not a total idiot and I’m willing to consider that maybe other people are right and the twisty convulsions of my distorted genius are just confusing crap, and b) when people don’t totally understand what you’ve written, but like it anyway, you have created this magical thing called “dialogue.” For instance, I just exchanged stories with my friend Brooke, who sent back two pages of comments describing her take on my story. Most of her ideas had never even occurred to me (my main character is actually Death?!), but they were so unique and inspiring that I’m sure they’ll transform the story (once I sit back down with it, which will probably be never, because I’m busy blogging). (And eating chips, even though I hear it’s an easy way to get a heart attack ASAP.) (I JUST DON’T GET IT, THIS THING CALLED LIFE!)