Advice on Writing – Clashing Perspectives

Apparently there’s a debate going on about attitudes toward writing and what writers should and shouldn’t do. This post by Andrew Shaffer, “Reject the ‘New Rules for Writers'”, is in reply to this post by Anis Shivani, “New Rules for Writers: Ignore Publicity, Shun Crowds, Refuse Recognition and More.” Outside the debate’s back-and-forth is this excellent set of pointers from Chris Guillebeau, “Good Writing Tips.”

Apparently, some readers have questioned whether Shivani intended his post as satire. The more I read and reread the piece, the more I think Shivani is thumbing his nose at all the nonsense writers at all levels say and believe in spirits of self-righteous pompousness. You can’t write and hold down a job at the same time; read only the classics, spurn contemporary writers; refuse recognition, you’ll demean yourself; don’t limit yourself to what you’re good at, an artist should be able to dabble all over the place; never think of yourself as successful—the better you write, the more you fail. These are the types of things I’ve heard some writers say; usually they’re affected writers, full of themselves rather than ability, and a lot of them are poets.

I do take offense at his comments about “overpaid,” “fat-ass” editors because: a) I’ve made squat as an editor over the years, which is par for the course. Maybe there are superstar editors with major publishing houses, just as there are superstar writers, but I bet even those editors don’t make a fraction of what those writers are paid.  b) I DO have a fat ass, but it has nothing to do with how I edit a manuscript, and frankly it’s none of Shivani’s business. However, this could be part of his satire. Writers just love to refer to editors as overpaid, fat-assed, arrogant, power-obsessed; also idiotic, insensitive, incompetent, elitist…all of these courtesy of the writers’ forum on a well-known content provider’s site.

Read Shivani’s “rules” for yourself. Do you agree? Why? If you found out his post was meant to be humorous, how would that change your acceptance of his rules? How would it change your own attitudes about writing?

Andrew Shaffer’s response includes a postscript saying Shivani’s piece might be satirical;  the post itself doesn’t debate Shivani’s “rules” so much as his attitudes toward MFA writing programs and the New York publishing industry. In that respect, I can’t totally relate to Shaffer’s objections. I have nothing against MFA programs; I’m not a product of one myself, so what they do and don’t accomplish and the extent of their influence is something I have to view from afar. I’m not in favor of blanket dismissals of any approach to anything, so I can’t sympathize if that’s what Shivani is doing. On the other hand, I think there’s some truth in his criticisms. Read Shaffer’s response. What do you think? Are you a MFA graduate or enrolled in such a program now? How does that affect your agreement or disagreement with Shaffer’s objections?

Outside all this sound and fury is what I consider solid writing advice from Chris Guillebeau. His points are simple, direct, and pragmatic. Pragmatism is a lovely thing in writing advice. It doesn’t get into rarefied artistic debates; it guides you toward writing whatever you have to say correctly and well. Although Guillebeau’s advice doesn’t address poetry specifically, there are still some excellent directives, such as reading your work aloud. And poets should never think the basics of writing good prose are beyond them. Same goes for bloggers and those keeping journals, although in a slightly different way.

Literary agent Nathan Bransford isn’t addressing poets in “Writer Wednesday: Do You Suffer From One of These Writing Viruses?”, but the maladies he describes are highly contagious to poets. In fact, I see stunning examples daily in the poetry contest I’m currently judging. I came across his post linked at the bottom of Guillebeau’s piece, and I’m glad I didn’t miss it. Again, here’s solid advice about common mistakes that trumpet the writer’s inexperience or poor ability in neon banners. If you’re a poet, read Bransford’s post daily until your condition improves. Don’t say none of these apply to you; we all make these mistakes.

All the articles in this discussion appear on The Huffington Post, which isn’t the first place I think to look for writing advice. It just goes to show what outstanding instruction is available on the Web, even on non-writing sites,  if you just take the time to look for it.

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One Response to Advice on Writing – Clashing Perspectives

  1. Carolyn Rincon says:

    Shivani’s rules are so ridiculous that I almost think they HAVE to be satire. Chris Guillebeau, on the other hand, is great. I read his blog all the time and his rules are basic but so true! They also remind me of Natalie Goldberg in WRITING DOWN THE BONES.

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